A friend asked me how I was doing today. Everything’s good? Everything’s okay? She said. I smiled. Yeah. We are good.
But things are not okay.
It’s not okay that the school system is so broken. That it’s overcrowded and the programs created to support our kids are spilling over in numbers without the proper supports in place. So instead we are forced to place our children in segregated schools where they will have the support they need. Where you will find wheelchair swings and ramped play structures, which don’t exist on any other playground.
Ali and I visited two schools last week for Sebastian. One was the school I had heard raved about for years. The inclusion is great! The school community and VP are fabulous. So involved. So accepting. It houses an ISP (Intensive Support Program) for kids with physical disabilities. The accessible entrance is on the side of the building. There are three floors, accessible by an elevator. There is a pool which stands empty for repairs. No ramp in or shower chairs for transfers. Though the kids still use the pool (when it’s full). The classroom is not much bigger than our dining room. In fact it could be the same size. I’m not sure how kids in their equipment (standers, walkers, wheelchairs) fit into the room together. Kids are in the ISP room at least 4 at a time and maybe up to 8 with next years’ numbers. They do their Maths and Literacy there. Some kids are 50% there and 50% in the regular class. Some kids are in there all day. There is no circle time. No story time. No science experiments. No cross-curricular learning. It’s a resource room. The regular classrooms at this school are filled to the brim too. 28-30 kids.
The only way Sebastian would be able to attend a program like this is with a one to one aid. This would need to be applied for by the school and approved by the Ministry of Education. There are 5 EA’s (educational assistants) for two ISP classrooms (over 17 students with varying needs).
So I cried when I got home and the next day I asked to see another school.
The day after that we visited the school I call segregated but the system calls congregated. The school I have been fighting against since we arrived in Toronto nearly 5 years ago. The principal was fantastic. The consultative therapy services have their offices onsite. There are two (working) pools. And that accessible playground I mentioned. There are teachers that know how to use the technology Sebastian’s needs to access the curriculum. It’s very similar to his current school, minus the therapy. There are 7-8 kids per class with 2 EAs and the teacher. Sounds great, right?
Sebastian had an awards ceremony at school today. He received an award for Responsibility. He is responsible for making his voice and his choices heard. I was so proud of him and he was equally proud of himself up there when he received his award. I saw a lot of his friends from nursery school get awards too. We’ve really been a part of a community here.
At the end of the assembly there was a slide show of photos from the term of kids learning. Sebastian’s face beamed across the screen, his smile wide and his eyes happy. He wasn’t building things or making art. He is included in his program undoubtedly but he accesses everything on a different level than kids who can physically manipulate objects. And I realized those ISP classes aren’t created for kids like Sebastian, that need a lot of extra help and care (but are also capable of learning and communicating). They are created for kids with minor physical disabilities that may also have a learning disability and need some extra help. And those supportive programs in the segregated schools are created for kids like Sebastian. If inclusion really were a priority (in the year 2015 it should be), at the very least the ISP classroom should be able to accommodate Sebastian. And those kids that are in the ISP class? They should be accommodated inside the regular classroom. At the very least. Because that’s what inclusion is.
My vision of Sebastian learning side by side with his peers and someone in the classroom to help him do that will not be realized this year.
But I’m not giving up. But first, ice cream. From the ice cream truck, naturally.