Today’s post is by our guest blogger, Meri Viano. **** As I look around and see all the parents in my community raising their kids, I often wonder what it is like to experience “normal” school activities. As I raise kids with emotional needs, I try to teach my kids that there is no such thing as “normal.” But let’s be real here: there are many times during the school year that we bump into a situation where we have to decide what kinds of “typical” experiences we need to make happen and which ones to let go of.
I am not the type of person that usually gets caught up in this, but sometimes the differences between what my children experience in a therapeutic school and what other children experience in public school has to be thought through. The other day, my son and I had a conversation and of course it turned into a mission. My kids attend “private” schools (as they call them) and I am fortunate to have found two great schools with parent support.
Mission 1: My oldest son asked the other day, “Mommy can I get a class ring?” I immediately said sure, then thought quickly, “Let’s GOOGLE it,” since it’s not something provided by his school. I was amazed to find a site dedicated to class rings and even more surprised that you can engrave the name of your own town on it. My son deserves the same special opportunities as other kids but I’m the one who has to make sure it will happen. I know this is important to him and is one thing that he will remember.
Mission 2: My younger son has been attending a “private” school for 2 years. He came home his first year and told me he was having school pictures taken. I remember saying, “Really? That is great!” The director of his school, an amazing woman, takes photos of all the students in the school. If you have money or not you get a picture! However, my other son reminded me recently, “I haven’t had my class picture taken for 3 years” True–and how did I miss that? With all the other stuff, it just happened. Mission number 2 has been accomplished because the school director made this happen. While demands such as MCAS had crowded it out, knowing it was important to the students put it back on the “to do” list.
Mission 3: I love volunteering in the school. To go on field trips, to make a project, to do a fundraiser with the students in the school – I love it!! I remember when I joined the PTA in my town. It was an amazing opportunity to have parent voice front and center. But in “private” schools you are lucky if you even come across parents. Either no one is allowed to volunteer because of privacy issues, or you are the only parent asking because so many children are in care and custody of the state. When my kids were in public school, I made gingerbread houses, was there for teacher appreciation day, and also field day! While I hated being the parent whose child needed a one-on-one, I loved being there.
At therapeutic schools, it is a new “concept” to have parents involved. Families, parents, siblings, grandparents are not often not visible there or attend activities. In public school, you are invited to many things, and they know that parent involvement is necessary to have “active” supports for their students. In “private” schools it is “different” to ask parents to be involved. Both of my boy’s schools are trying very hard to include parents.
Family involvement is really not anything new for schools to accept. However, it is hard for some schools to understand that even with obstacles and challenges, we want involvement. We just need to be asked and told that we are wanted.
As I thought about the differences in public and “private” schools, other milestones came into my mind: prom, high school graduation and then the bragging and boasting about where your child will be going to college. My kids will grow and understand that it may be a bit different, but it will be unique, special and amazing.
I am extremely lucky to have two kids that will teach me how to advocate for “normal” childhood memories. Hopefully, they will have many more of them and know that they are worth just as much as any kid that goes to public school.