Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ian the Graduate: For he's a jolly good fellow...

Ian graduated from school on June 8th this year. For special education students who make it through the 25 - 26 years they are allotted by Michigan's Special Education law, graduation is a bittersweet moment. Ian has many fans at High Point School among the teachers and support staff who will miss him dearly, almost as much as he will miss them. He will probably see his best friend David only on special occasions. We are working out things for him to do with his time, but the truth is it will be hard to match the program he is leaving.

High Point School is the only center-based program remaining in the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD). It serves 60 - 70 students with multiple disabling conditions, including severe medical, physical, intellectual, and behavioral disabilities. The program shares a building with Honey Creek School, a charter school sponsored by the WISD. For the parents of High Point students, the High Point Program is generally valued most for the skill and experience of its staff and an environment that is caring and supportive of both students and families. The benefit of sharing a building with the charter school for kindergarten through 8th-graders is frosting on the cake.

The inclusion movement, whose proponents insist that all children should be educated together in the same classrooms, has led to the closure of many center-based programs over the last twenty years. High Point avoided closure by bringing regular education students into the special education building. Opportunities for both groups of students to spend time together are informal and relaxed and neither group has had to give up anything to accomplish this.

I am grateful for the teachers and support staff at High Point School who are so good at what they do that even parents can forget just how difficult their jobs are. Students with tracheostomies and feeding tubes, seizures, difficult behaviors, exotic syndromes, and frequent medical emergencies don't seem to faze them. What you see as an observer walking through the halls are purposeful activities and happy and engaged students.

When I think of Ian's friend David, I will always remember him in his favorite spot in the corner of the classroom where he can see and hear everything that goes on. Although he does not talk, I'm almost certain he manages to communicate to his mother everything that went on at the end of the day. He loves to listen in on conversations and stares daggers through anyone who comes between him and his favorite video playing on the TV screen. He has a sign up on the wall that a teacher's assistant found for him that says:

I'd like to think that Ian may do the same some day and boy, will we get an earful.

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