Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Lasting Foundations

We moved house in December. If you have had the privilege of doing the same, you will know it is emotional and stressful. You have to let go of living in that one space in order to enjoy the benefits of living in the new space. Letting Go. That's that hard bit, but necessary.

Moving Matt to a new school feels similar to moving house. But the letting go feels worse. Actually it feels more like a demolition of one's old house only to have to build a new house from scratch. Am I being a bit melodramatic? Let me explain...

Matt was a Barkly House Harfield Road for two years. In that time precious "building work" took place in order for Matt to grow, learn, participate and be happy in that school setting. I had to build trust and a working relationship with Matt's teachers and teacher assistant - this required many meetings, honest sharing, checking out expectations and basically lots of communication. I had to build a support structure for myself amongst the parents - slowly sifting out the parents showed only pity and said things like "I don't know how you do it, I surely couldn't", as if Matt was an intolerable thing to cope with; whilst holding on to those parents who saw Matt as a person and were truly delighted that their child had the opportunity to build friendship with him.

Matt had to build relationships the other children. This was not easy for Matt, especially as he was developmentally not-so-ready for friendships when he started at the school, and add to that he could hardly talk at first. Matt had to build trust with his teachers and the teacher assistant too, this was a little easier given their consistent and patient interest in him, but it took time.

The children had to be helped to understand Matt, and be coached as to how to engage with him in a way that he could understand. They had to learn to be patient, giving Matt time to speak. They had to learn not to do things for him, but let him try. They had to learn to cope with the grumpy side of Matt, when it was quicker for Matt to push or bite than to find words to express himself. They did all this and came to appreciate his role in the class, missing him when he was off sick and standing up for him when kids from other classes may have misunderstood him.

The teachers and teacher's assistant took time to get to know Matt, to understand him, to see past his quirkiness, to celebrate his strengths, to find the balance between letting him be who he was but also slowly nudging him to keep growing, to facilitating his connection with classmates, to not putting any limitations on his learning, to always experimenting with different ways to help him develop, to totally include him meaningfully in all aspects of the school day.

In a previous post I shared how Matt got to spend a morning in his new school. Following that visit we returned to his old school for the rest of the day. As we drove into the schools driveway I heard him in the back seat saying "Rushby, Rushby" - his teachers name. As soon as he got inside the school, I am told he bolted to find his teacher, stumbling over toys in his pathway in his haste to get to her. Once he reached her he hugged her tightly and would not leave her side for the rest of the day. Matt couldn't put into words what he was feeling, but part of me could relate. I too wanted to hold on to this safe, caring, embracing, accepting, fun, nurturing school. I also didn't want to let go and move on. It caused a physical ache in my heart, I can only think what Matt was feeling.

Sadly, moving on from Barkly House Harfield Road means that none of these precious relationships go with us, we have to start from scratch, building a new safe and nurturing environment in the new school. And that feel a bit like demolition!

I can't really remember Matt's last day of school. The emotions were just too overwhelming, it is all a blur. Now, a month has passed since that ending, I can accept the fact that we do need to keep moving forward.

But we shall always be grateful to the children who grew to really love Matt - I think of Gemma and Maya in particular but I know there were more. My heart is warmed by the memories of the parents who showed love to me. And I really don't know how to express my deep, deep thankfulness to Matt's teacher from 2012, Diane Moffatt; his teacher from 2013 Theresa Rushby; and to Romelia Duminy the teacher's assistant who kept a special watch over Matt for both years. The foundation these three ladies laid in Matt's life will last his lifetime.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Drummer Boy Matt

I think the reason I am sooo behind in my blogging is because the last three months of 2013 were really emotional for me, and Matt. Preparing to leave Matt's school Barkly House Harfield Road, despite the positive plans for his new school, was just hard. And so blogging was just avoided. And as I look over these photos (now with the distance of a month passed), I remember that constant knot in my stomach and the stinging tears lurking behind my eyes that seemed to dominate much of November and December.
But more of that in another post. Here are some fun pictures of Matt's role in the school's end of year Nativity Play. I love that all the children dress up and all the children participate in some way. The Grade Rs get to choose what part they wish to play, and Matt chose to be a drummer boy.
Matt and his partner drummer girl
Yes those Drummer Hats were big!

Matt's big moment: keeping the drum beat! Romelia sitting behind him reminding him to keep in time. Matt LOVES alternating fast beats with slow beats, and it took all his will power to keep the same pace.

Another favourite for Matt: doing song actions. I think it reminds him of his signing.

 The children all carefully filled off the stage and walked passed us to the changing rooms. As Matt neared where we were sitting, our little Nic couldn't contain his excitement and raced to hug Matt. Well it was more like a big, warm, rugby tackle due to the high levels of enthusiasm.

The shows over. Last photo before the costume comes off. Smiles all around!

Matt's new school

Still catching up on 2013 blogging: Also in November Matt was invited on a personal tour to his new school. Not a huge-crowd-orientation-day with loads of kids, just Matt and his teacher assistant from his current school (and me). He was shown around the school, got to meet his teacher and facilitator, and some of the grade 1's took him under their wing.

Matt meets the school animals...

This little boy next to Matt was in Matt's current school last year, so he remembers Matt. He sensed that Matt was feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all. Without prompting he showed such tenderness towards Matt.

These two boys spontaneously took Matt's hand to show him around the school. I was really touched by how eager they were to make Matt feel safe and at home.

 Matt being shown his classroom.

Matt's future teacher sitting with him whilst a grade 7 did reading with Matt. Once a week the grade 7s read to the grade 1s. Great role-modelling and mentoring opportunity. As Matt was visiting during this time he was included in the process. He really enjoyed it.

 Matt getting his shoes off: ready to get to work at the jungle gym.

Matt falling in love with the texture corner in the art room!

Meeting more of the "wildlife" at the school.

Matt's facilitator connecting with Matt over cars!
I'm not really sure how to end this post without gushing about how great I think Matt's new school is based on the effort that has been made by them to get to know Matt and to create opportunities for Matt to feel at home there. I am conscious that I wear rose-tinted spectacles - just because of their willingness to embrace Matt. And I guess time will tell if this school setting works for Matt. But I left this encounter feeling really hopeful about Matt's time there starting 2014.