One year ago I was wondering how John would fare in public school as a 4-year-old with, well, with everything that was going on with him. Wondering isn't accurate: I was researching, worrying, being guided and inspired, hoping, conferencing–sometimes all in one day. John's health, his development, and the coming school year were occupying a lot of space in my mind.
Some time toward the end of summer, I got a phone call from a non-public preschool. He had been on their waiting list for so long that I had almost forgotten them. Would I come in and visit? Sure, I guess so. I wrote the appointment down with the same mechanism of numbers, paper, and ballpoint that had recorded the many adjacent medical and educational appointments in my datebook. But still, before I even hung up the phone from that first call, I felt some sort of cloud of significance approaching.
The 4-year-old classroom seemed small but the playground was majestic. The hallways were dingy but throughout the building there was a quiet strength, a soft strength almost enduring, like a song with phrases that succeed each other perfectly. The school was a good enough bet, and come September, John was enrolled there part time.
A lot happened over the school year. In fact, if someone had listed for me in the first week of September the many challenges we would face over the next nine months? I would have laughed. Or kicked a wall–or both. Challenges of many types, some that I had never even heard of before. And it turned out that the quiet strength and worn livingroomness that I had seen before the start of school were exactly what are needed for a preschool to be able to patiently and consistently serve a lot of kids with a lot of challenges for a lot of years. At first I was slightly confused by the fact that they didn't seem to serve a significant number of kids with special needs. They had a different definition of special needs that I couldn't understand; it was beyond the most radical word reconception I could imagine. But very soon, our family became a part of a lot of statistics and groups that fit into that different definition, and by gosh if John didn't thus happen to be at the place that could handle the whole package just fine.
Place to park the wheelchair in class? Got it (right by the guinea pig cage, and walkers get parked in the hall). Social worker and director who have seen it all? Got it. Need emergency clothes for the kids? Got it, oh, and here's the extra canned food if you are short. Rad tunes on the centers-time boombox? Got it. Two separated parents for dropoff and pickup, with weird legal stuff changing every week? No problem. Extra baby bottle for a dehydration-prone child who can't cup drink and whose bottle got left 24 miles away? Got it. Administrators who are up-to-the-minute on local politic kid happenings? Got it. Fiscally accountable? Got it, if you're in a position to care. Just enough sand and mud and soap and water and paint and fake snow and pretend ideas and nap mats? Yep.
The only thing the school didn't have was paper towels, and that was only for one day out of 275, and staff were fine and had a system worked out involving hoarding and transfer to crucial points. There was soap in the guest restroom at least, so I just dried my washed hands on my shirt that day.
Through the tumultuous year, they could still serve John's educational and social/emotional needs and his significant special needs, and they could do it without batting an eyelash. No shame. No resentment. No strange looks. Just staff who were truly happy to see John every morning and who still seemed happy to be with him at the end of the day. Staff who had the patience to handle a multitude of routine or major challenges: all recess, all lunch, and as far as I could tell, all day. Creativity, calm use of skill, and love that I haven't seen used with groups of little kids anywhere else.
Because there, it's about the kids. I can't imagine anything else that would cause this kind of consistency and devotion in an organization. Honorable and touching things are often inexplicable to me. So that's the only explanation I can come up with for what I've seen at this place. It's just about the kids.