At the time, it was a pretty scary word. Caleb started out in an inclusive ESE pre-K class. He was not the most challenged student and he was not the least. Falling somewhere in the middle of the pack, he was slated to join a mainstream kindergarten class. There would be as many as 25 students, some in school for the first time, all needing some kind of attention from the one teacher who would be in the room. My mama spidey sense was tingling away. I didn’t want him to get left behind or looked over. So we decided to enroll him in a private school with a mainstream kindergarten class with only seven kids in it. 1:7 was a much more comforting ratio to me than 1:25.
Just a few weeks into school, we were already meeting to discuss other arrangements. It wasn’t working out.
After much research and getting special allowance from our school district, Caleb was enrolled in a school close to our home but outside of our zone.
We found our place. The teacher was specially trained in all things ASD. There were three assistants in this class of 8 little boys. I could bring my child to school, entrust him to these four wonderfully patient and saintly ladies, and know deep in my mama heart that he wasn’t only having his educational needs met but he was loved.
And because they loved my child, they wanted to see him succeed in meeting that mainstream goal just as much as I did.
After a year and a half, that day came.
Caleb had been placed with a wonderful 1st grade teacher who was just right for him and he loved her.
In the last few months, I’ve learned that meeting that goal was not an ending but more of a beginning. We’ve started all over with a new set of goals, fears, and lessons to learn.
Here are a few of those lessons I’ve learned…
The transition from ESE to Mainstream can be just as hard on the parent as it is for the student.
We were in a comfortable place in our little ESE nest. It was our second year with the same friends and the same teachers. We had communication every single day and sometimes throughout the day. We had the same schedule, the same behavior system, and I knew all of the other moms. During that transition, we had multiple teachers with different communication systems, different teaching styles, different assistants, the names of the friends were all running together. It was a lot to keep straight. For example, we had Valentine’s Day festivities during this transition. Two different class events, seven teachers, 30 friends. And I’m so thankful for every single one, don’t get me wrong. It’s just a lot to keep straight!
Struggle does not equal failure.
Being in a mainstream class, there are different expectations. He’s expected to be able to follow directions the first time. Focus on and complete the assignments within the time given. Participate in activities with his classmates. That is not wrong. This is the point of being in a mainstream class – to learn and practice functioning in a “real world” learning environment. It can be discouraging when the expectations are not quite met. If I’m not careful, I can become disappointed when the weekly note continues to report the same struggles. But then I remind myself of how far we’ve come. The teacher is quick to say that there are also many instances when Caleb is a total rock star. Especially with the academics. It’s a process. It will take time and practice.
There are nice kids and there are not-so-nice kids.
Kids are kids. I get it. I was one. I had my moments of being bullied and also moments of being a horrible little person myself. I don’t know why. I think sometimes it’s just a phase we go through as we learn how to be the person we want to be. But when it’s your child on the receiving end of someone’s “phase,” you are slightly less understanding and patient. Some of his new classmates have gone above and beyond to welcome him. I’ll never forget the day he came home from school bursting with excitement because a friend had invited him to sit together at lunch. He was so proud to have a friend. My heart swelled. But, unfortunately, I’ll also never forget the day we were out somewhere and he saw a classmate. We were five feet away when Caleb called the kid’s name over and over and over. ”Hi ___! Hi! Hi! Hi _____! Hi ____! Hi!!” Caleb’s grin was huge. He thought it was the greatest thing to see his friend outside of school. This kid just ignored him. She stared through my child as if he didn’t exist and she couldn’t be bothered. My heart broke. I knew this wouldn’t be the last time we had to deal with jerky little kids but I also tried to remember the sweethearts who saw the funny, caring, smart, loving person that is my son. There will be many more of those sweethearts, too.
Appreciate everyone for their example – both good and bad.
Everyone you meet, whether it’s parents or teachers, classmates or administrators, will provide an example. Many times, they will show you examples of love and respect, patience and support. I’m so thankful for that. Sometimes, they will show you examples of ways you will never want to speak to or treat other human beings. I’m also thankful for that. I’m happy to say that there have been many more wonderful examples of good than bad. But both examples have their place and their value in life.
Mainstream does not equal typical.
Mainstream does not mean that your child can suddenly fit in. Most of the time, it actually means that he might stand out. He will always have his quirks, challenges, gifts, and talents. That’s how he’s built. And this could be a controversial statement for some, but I wouldn’t change him for the world. I will do all I can to equip him to navigate this world. And I will also do all I can to equip our world to appreciate this amazing person that I have been gifted with raising.
Mainstreaming was always the goal. I always saw it as the ultimate end result of the love and training poured into him by his ESE team. I was wrong. It’s just one more step on his path. It’s a big step. It can be a frustrating step and even a terrifying step. But it’s the next step and I’m so thankful to be walking this path with our incredible team of teachers and staff, gathering lessons learned along the way.