Saturday, August 4, 2012

Thank God It's "Friday"

We are IN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! To the "Friday School", that is. I nicknamed our #1 elementary school of choice the "Friday School" because after a whirlwind tour of 4 other elementary schools, the school we toured last- on a Friday- became our #1 pick by a landslide.  I know I got a little crazy and a little anxious about the whole process. I'm sure I have friends with older kids who thought I was too wrapped up in choosing a Kindergarten. But, here's the thing:
1) The neighborhood we live in has terrible, TERRIBLE home schools. Under-enrolled, severely budget challenged, minimal to no parental support- in time or money, and test scores we won't even discuss.
2) The Friday school is a K-8 program. All of the other schools we toured were K-5, which meant that I would have to go through this process all over again unless we moved to a better neighborhood. (When we bought our house, we assumed that in at least 5-8 year's time we would have upgraded to a better neighborhood with better schools. Yet, here we still are. I know a lot of people around the country are in similar positions. It is mind-boggling how much money we have to make to stay in our 1300 sq foot house in the Los Angeles area.
3) The Friday school has a theme of Inclusion. The school's philosophy is that ALL children, regardless of learning style and ability, work together in an inclusive environment. Children of all different abilities, from the gifted to those with special needs, learn in the same classroom. And I love the way they actually accomplish this. My oldest son, Christian, will grow up where inclusion is the norm, not the exception, and Elijah will grow up in an environment I don't have to fight every step of the way to have him included in regular classrooms.

We have been on the wait list since May. We started as #14, moved to #9 by June and then to #1 in July. I called on Tuesday just to get a feel for if the school thought a spot might open up before school began. The secretary said it was possible but she couldn't say for sure. She said they would be working on the wait list in the afternoon. 50 minutes later I received a congratulatory email, letting us know that Christian had received a spot. (*I know I make this sound simple, but the objects are larger than they appear. I have not gone into detail about the many phone calls that I made to the school in between being #14 and the last phone call. Let's just say, I didn't need to give them my son's last name when I called to inquire this last time around.)

I screamed. I scared my children. Then I bounced around and grabbed the phone to formally ACCEPT. It is an answered prayer.

On Tuesday, the day after we got word of Christian's acceptance, we brought the enrollment forms into the office. I asked if I could walk Christian around the campus and the secretary told me that she would have someone give us a formal tour. Our formal tour included  a parent volunteer and an almost 3rd grader who happened to come into the school office with her Mom. The 3rd grader- Giselle- was happy to show Christian around and talked about which class she had been in, in Kindergarten and who her teacher was.

In one classroom we entered, there was a therapy ball of sorts- kind of like a Pilates or therapy ball, except it's shaped like a peanut.  Christian sat on it and asked what it was.  Giselle said, "Oh, that was James'.  He has special needs and sometimes he would use it to bounce on or lay on."  The parent volunteer said, "That's right, because some kids learn a little differently, right?"  Giselle replied calmly, "Uh huh. James loves to surf and he LOVES the water. He doesn't talk, but he has a picture board, and sometimes if he wants to play with you, he'll bring you a picture of what he wants to play with and gives it to the person he wants to play with. Then, sometimes the teachers will let you take a break from your schoolwork to play with him."  I wanted to cry. On the spot.  I was so touched by how she was just relaying the story about a classmate- a friend who is a little different. Her tone was almost admiring. It wasn't dismissive. It wasn't pitiful. She knew this kid James. And he was just....James. James, who learns a little different, communicates a little differently and loves to surf.

I adore this school for Christian. I truly think it will be a good fit. The bigger picture is that this school is priceless for Elijah. No fighting the school district on whether or not he'll be fully included in typically developing classrooms. No wondering if he'll have a full enough experience with his typical peers, or they with him. When Elijah gets to Elementary school age, he will work alongside his typically developing peers and luckily these peers will get to know HIM. He has a shot at not being seen as different or weird or stupid. These are the things that kids (like I was) think when they haven't been exposed to children of all abilities. It's uncomfortable and it breeds ignorance.

This week has been absolutely stellar! I was able to take a deep breath from all of the school anxiety and fully enjoy what this week held. It held FUN.

After our amazing school tour and a quick dip at the local pool to take the edge off the heat, I dropped Elijah at my parents' house so that Christian and I could have an official Mother-Son date.  I had tickets to the El Capitan movie theatre in Hollywood to see "Brave" and decided we should travel in style.  We drove to the Universal City Metro station and hopped on the subway for one exit,  and then walked across the street to see the movie.  The El Capitan isn't just any movie theatre. It's a historic movie theatre in Hollywood that mixes live entertainment with movie magic to create an experience unlike any other. The coolest thing about it? When I was dancing professionally, I worked there many times. Luckily, I still have friends dancing in the shows there and we were fortunate enough to see them perform before our movie.  I was all smiles. Christian was literally bouncing up and down in his seat from the live entertainment excitement. The train ride was a thrill, Christian loved the movie and it was all in all, the best Mother-Son date we've had to...well, date.

Walking up to the station...




I got Christian home late, tucked into bed, and was thankful that my parents had agreed to take Elijah overnight so that I wouldn't have to drive back late to get him.  Come morning, I was aching to see my baby boy, though.

When I went to pick up Elijah, I got the usual report: He ate a good dinner, slept well but woke up early, and had fun. Oh yeah, and he was walking by himself with the push toy. .................Come again?........ My Mom was surprised when I said, "What??!! He's never done that before!", so we immediately pulled out the push toy, stood him in front of it, and...

He did that over and over and even stood up (holding the toy) without assistance from us.  Our house has a lot of wood floors, so the push toy is faster and harder to control on the wood.  I am impressed that he has even started mastering the push toy at our house in the areas where we have throw rugs, or with some assistance from me to keep the toy from shooting out from underneath him. I also love that when the toy starts getting too close to a wall or a piece of furniture, he stops, changes the direction of the toy and then starts walking again. My little smarty pants.

The glow of knowing where my kids will go to school put this whole week on a great note. Our days were colored with an extra dose of happiness and the schedule of swim lessons, playdates, pool hangs, subway and movie adventures and even a girls' night out peppered my work week in the best possible way. We would have made it work if the "Friday school" hadn't worked out, but now I can take a breath knowing that it did.

Thank God It's "Friday"!! :) 


Anonymous said...

Wow. We just took the kids on the subway last night over to hollywood and highland. We boarded at the north hollywood station. The kids loved it. Lila has been asking to go forever. Love that you took Christian too. :) Yay for "Friday School" and yay for Elijah!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh Jen, I was already happy for your admission into the "Friday School", but your description of the school and tour made me cry. The relief you described was felt completely over here. I am sending up a huge prayer of thanks!


P said...

Definitely an answered prayer ALONG with a glimpse of the future too, coincidence? I think not! Divine intervention and you are lucky to have found each other cause you are going to help the school improve & grow too in ways you can too. Cheers to not moving and finding ways to keep keep your house a home of love around work & life--through that you have found a school that's a perfect fit in 'challenging enough for so many OTHER non-school based reasons' LA!

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