It's been a little over a week now since Oia finished up her last day of preschool. That last day of preschool felt no different to me than her very first day of preschool, just 3 years ago.
The fear, hesitation, anxiety, excitement, and pride were all present once again. A true case of the first day jitters but on the very last day.
Fear. Fortunately, Oia has had the same preschool teacher and classroom assistant for all three of her PK years. These ladies know her as well as a teacher and assistant can know a student. And she knows them. There is a safety net that eliminates some, but not all of, the daily hesitation in handing off your handicapped child when the face is familiar and trusted because she has worked with and looked after your child since Day 1. But fear, because the last day of preschool means that the last day inside that comfort zone, which took 3 years to build, has arrived and only bigger and harder things are waiting around the corner. Kindergarten.
Hesitation. We kept Oia in preschool an extra year. By age, she could have entered Kindergarten last year and I had to make a *small* stand to state my case as to why my globally delayed child needed the additional support that one more year of preschool would provide. It's proven to be the right decision, as I knew it would be. Oia has grown in many wonderful ways over the last year but is she fully prepared, on all levels, for Kindergarten? She is not. Enter hesitation here. But she does carry with her her stylish bag full of personal bests, wears an infectious smile, and walks alongside two parents who lovingly push, unconditionally support, and fiercely advocate for her 100% of the way.
Anxiety. Stepping out of that cushy box that we were snug and warm inside of for the last 3 years leaves a lot of room for anxiety. A lot. Inside that cozy little box, labeled Special Education, lived a handful of kids, Oia's 6 classmates, who all in one way or another faced a challenge. Or many of them. The environment inside that box was safe and understanding of challenges and diversity. Each face was a friend. It's a hard and scary box to step out of. The social levels of Kindergarten rise and become complex, as does the academic expectations, and "special education" has a way of becoming more obvious to those kiddos who didn't first begin there. Will kids understand Oia? Will they be patient with her? Include her? Worry about her? Help her or laugh at her? Will she be bullied in any way? How would I even know if she can't tell me? The unknowns of Kindergarten flip my insides upside down. Up. Side. Down.
Excitement and Pride. We are moving forward, ready or not, because that is the only direction of progress. Oia is continual progress. Slow but always steady. She will grow outside of that Special Education box we stepped from a little over a week ago and she will, I know she will, continue to amaze us with all the gains she continues to stash inside her expanding bag of personal bests. Slung over her shoulder, no matter how heavy, this child will demand to carry it all by herself, while smiling, and greeting everyone within ears reach with the cheeriest and most direct Hey! you've ever heard. Because that's Oia.
So come August, many prayers will be said for a safe, peaceful, and productive school year. For many reasons, Rob and I believe in Inclusion and we demanded this be Oia's placement for next year, which is the complete opposite of her 3 years in self contained preschool. She will be in the same public elementary school, different hall. She will receive 30 minutes of special ed literacy instruction and 30 minutes of special ed math instruction per day, all in the general ed classroom. It is agreed that the classroom Oia is assigned to next year will also be assigned an assistant whose primary focus is Oia's needs, whatever those shall be at any given time. However, the assistant is not Oia's 1:1 as he/she may help all students of the classroom but Oia is the primary. It's official. The 27 page IEP has been signed. I'm entering this next chapter with a whole lotta' faith...
And fear, hesitation, anxiety, excitement, and pride.