White Dog shook her head in wonder as she considered with me how it is that when things seem bleak and out of control a ray of sunshine pours in the window and shows the way. Needless to say our lives have been a bit hectic, adding to that was a great deal of stress of Michael's fate.
He missed passing the Math Competency test for HS graduation for the second year in a row by 2 points and it seemed as though he would be forced to spend another semester in classes instead of moving into the program which will help him build independent living and community integration skills. He has more than enough credits to complete this phase, and is an honor student, but it seemed that his lack of test taking confidence was his doom. This morning Steve and I met with his teaching team and Michael to map out an Individual Education Plan, we thought for another year of classes. We walked into a fantastic surprise still being cobbled together but guaranteeing Michael's passage into the new program.
Since Michael first came to live with us a year ago last February, he has attended what is considered in town to be one of the "worst" schools. We were warned to be fearful and not to expect much from the school. Of course, when we purchased our home more than a decade ago we had no children so schools were not part of our consideration. We would make it work somehow.
Our experience has been so contrary to the dire predictions that the White Dogs agree, we need to give praise and recognition to a Special Education staff and teaching team that took an angry unsettled young man with few hopes and even fewer dreams and turned him into Michael, a young man growing in confidence daily, not afraid to tackle challenges, who has found a voice and a desire to achieve. Through patience, gentle constant pressure, and an unwillingness to just let Michael "meet the minimum," these true educators helped guide Michael through his growth and adjustment.
White Dog and her siblings in particular want to recognize the efforts of three very special heroes:
Robert, who heads the Transitions community integration program, who took Michael's cause all of the way "downtown" and convinced the highest powers to waive the missing two points in exchange for practical life math tutoring when Michael joins his program. Robert, is one of those rare educators who believes what he does is all about the students. His care and commitment are reflected in the amazing success stories that come out of his Program. Michael could not be in better hands as he heads into adulthood.
Mike, Michael's Lead Teacher, can often be found at school at 6pm or on weekends as he struggles to find new and creative ways to challenge kids that have often been told "they can't hope for much" their entire lives. He gets to know each student and how to motivate him. He personally worked and pushed and butted heads with a sometimes frustrated or unwilling or angry young man (Michael) who had never had anyone say, "I don't care if it is hard, life isn't always easy. I will help but you must do it!" Mike is tough but fair and he doesn't let his SpecEd students use "Victimness" as an excuse. Michael certainly benefitted from being held accountable for the first time ever.
Finally, Rick, who started as his social worker when Michael first began school here. When he was transferred to another school he agreed to continue seeing our "work in progress" outside of school hours. Rick is the one who faced down the brunt of Michael's awakening emotions as he learned to deal with issues from his past, adjust to family life, learn tools to manage his feelings without burying them...theirs is an ongoing process.
So tonight, we celebrate the upcoming graduation, scramble to organize the details (graduation is next Wednesday), and are a little fearful about the future. White Dog, The Other White Dog, Another White Dog, Still Another White Dog, and Yet Another White Dog have given licks of congratulations and nuzzles of understanding to their human cousin who really does not like change but also has come to desire growth.
And we all utter a silent blessing to all those who reached out and gave this boy a real chance to become a man. In a time when education is slammed from all sides, we say thank dog there are still Chalkboard Heroes amongst us! It is a wonderful world.