Our Story: An Open Thank You Note to My Daughter’s Elementary School

Juliet receiving her certificate for completing elementary school.

Juliet receiving her certificate for completing elementary school.

I’m of the generation whose mothers made them write thank you notes for gifts received. Consider this an open thank you note to the gift my daughter’s elementary school gave her and us. 

In the Fall of 2007, my daughter, Juliet, walked into Field Elementary for the first time as a student. In May 2016, she crossed the stage to receive her certificate for completing fifth grade. Nine years may seem like an inordinate amount of time to complete grades K-5, but Juliet was lucky to enjoy three extra years as a student at Field.

She began as a student in the preschool class then-held at Field. For most students, the preschool was tuition-based, but Juliet qualified for free tuition through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that allows free entry to Head Start programs for students with diagnosed special needs. Juliet happens to have Down syndrome, and, therefore, qualified for the supports provided under IDEA.

We would receive needed supports through IDEA and a helpful, compassionate, accommodating school administration.

In preschool, these included speech and occupational therapy, which would continue throughout her attendance at Field. When it came time for Juliet to enter kindergarten in 2009, Juliet was included in the main classroom, with pull out to the resource room for specialized instruction.

Juliet’s schedule was designated by her Individualized Education Program (IEP) required under IDEA. Field also provided a one-on-one, in-classroom aide, which further helped Juliet with the transition to kindergarten. She would have a one-on-one aide until the Fall semester of her final year, when then she received additional help as needed by available aides in the school.

Field worked with us to provide the best “fit” for Juliet’s educational needs. In second grade, when it seemed a Montessori-style instruction was more challenging than accommodating, they helped us transition her into a different classroom.

In third grade, when there was a definite step-up in classroom work and expectations, her teacher shared that Juliet was struggling to keep pace, but agreed that if given the chance to repeat, she would catch up. So, through the cooperative work of the Field staff with Juliet’s parents, who made up Juliet’s IEP team, she repeated third grade. According to the state standardized test administered that second year, Juliet was testing at the district and statewide average for all third graders.

By the time fifth grade came around, her IEP was written to reflect that Juliet learned better in the main classroom than when pulled out for specialized instruction, so the ratio was flipped, giving her more time in the main classroom. When her teacher needed to take a leave of absence near-in-time to her aide choosing to seek other endeavors, amidst that shake-up, Field’s leadership again found the best “fit” for Juliet in another fifth grade class that had in-classroom support for other children.

Throughout her years at Field, Juliet never received a grade lower than a “C” and her final grades actually went up in Math and Reading–she maintained a near 4.0 in Science across grade-levels. She also made many friendships and received a loud round of applause as she crossed the stage during the commencement ceremony with arms raised in triumph.

I share all of this not just because I’m a proud dad. Juliet’s success is an example of what can be achieved by students when their needs are identified and supported through a staff committed to educating all of their students.

And, that’s not just my assessment of how the teachers and administrators at Field served my child and others like her. The same week of Juliet’s commencement, our local paper ran an article featuring Field as one of the few schools across the state that had closed the gap between identified groups that struggled at meeting the main curriculum.

The article explained how Field endeavors to treat each child as having an IEP, whether they have a diagnosis that requires one under IDEA or not. Instead, it’s a view of treating each child as a unique individual and tailoring instruction and supports to meet the needs each child invariably has. The proof is in the test results that showed across the identified groups that experienced gaps statewide, Field had closed those gaps with those students.

The idea that each child has unique learning needs should not be a revolutionary one. Indeed, IDEA reflects that truth, when it comes to individuals with diagnosed special needs. But, each child (and each of us) has our own needs special to us because we are all individuals, with individualized talents and struggles.

Because Field recognizes that truth about their students, my daughter and her classmates, with and without diagnosed special needs, receive individualized instruction to maximize their potential for learning.

So, thank you to all of Juliet’s teachers, therapists, staff members, and leadership team for giving her and her parents the gift of nine wonderful years and for treating our daughter as a student and an individual, and not a diagnosis.

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