Now that it is June, strawberry shortcake season is upon us. Sylvie loves whipped cream sweetened with maple syrup. She can’t really manage chewing or swallowing the cake or strawberries, so she just goes for the sweet, fluffy stuff. June also marks the ending of the official school year. As an educator myself, this time of year is always so bittersweet. I relish the thought of a summer break to hang out at home more and catch up on projects. But it’s also a period of transition when I know that I will no longer see some of my students again as they go onto jobs and adventures outside of college. I know this is life. But I still cringe a bit at that transition.
Sylvie’s first year of preschool is winding down, and it was with some trepidation that we said good bye to her classroom instructor last week. Ms. Carrie got a job offer in Michigan at an outdoor education center, so she left her class before preschool was officially over. Ms. Carrie was definitely one of those teachers that just really opened her heart up to our family and gave her all to Sylvie this year. She had never had a child with “special needs” in her class before, but that did not dissuade her from doing everything possible to include Sylvie in classroom activities. She approached the teacher-parent conferences with the same seriousness and respect she would give any other kid, and she muddled through her first IEP with us and the public school administrators with gusto. I want all of Sylvie’s teachers and care providers to be like Ms. Carrie!
We wanted Sylvie to go to some structured program especially for the socialization/kid time aspect of preschool. As far as I can tell, the kids have been fantastic about playing and interacting with Sylvie. Sylvie’s instructional assistants have told fun stories of how much Sylvie likes circle time and listening to music. Sylvie’s speech therapist has been great about getting photos of all of Sylvie’s classmates so we can talk about them when we’re not at school. In fact, her speech therapist and instructional assistants have been remarkable all around, trying out new technologies, genuinely thinking about ways to communicate with Sylvie that doesn’t include words per se.
Thank you fine women who have taken good care of Sylvie this school year! I know too well that those who care for our children are often undervalued and under paid. These educators and care providers are doing hard emotional labor. And that type of labor just isn’t the kind that is necessarily monetarily valued! If I could, I would love to pay Sylvie’s personal care assistance a more livable wage that includes full health benefits and paid vacations. Sylvie’s PCA for this year has just left, and at least two others, including her school assistant are going away this fall. Maybe if we paid them more, they would stick around. But maybe not---this continual care for a non-verbal, non-mobile child is just hard, frustrating, and sometimes just downright mundane. The least we can do is thank them more often and maybe invite them over for some strawberry shortcake with our family.
Kirsten Isgro is a professor of Communication Studies at the State University of New York and the mother of 4-year old twin girls.