this IS your fight

This fight IS your fight.

If you care when human beings in need are marginalized because of their challenges, this is your fight.

If you care that schools are overcrowded; that adolescents and teens suffer bullying and often become suicidal; that teachers have less and less say about how to teach their students, this is your fight.

If you want to see every child given every possibility to succeed, and you believe school should not cause children stress or anxiety, this is your fight.

If you have, love, or know an exceptional needs child at any age, this is your fight.

Things begin to change when we see beyond our own borders; when we think more deeply than our own perspective; when we become willing to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.

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I sat in my daughter’s IEP meeting recently, surrounded by people who care about her, educators who have taken an interest in her future, and they told me honestly that the current system has nothing that will be the right fit for her in high school.  The pace of the curriculum and the language-heavy grading will cause her to fail, no matter how hard she works.  Because the upper grade levels offer less and less practical application assignments for grading, she will not be able to continue to maintain her good grades.  And yet, none of her teachers believe she’s ideally suited to pursue an occupational course of study.

Meanwhile, every day before school, our daughter struggles to eat her breakfast because anxiety about the coming school day makes her nauseous.  She wraps her legs in a blanket because fear and stress cause her legs to shake, and she interprets this as chills.  She has autism, and she has trouble explaining what she feels.  At school, she waits to be the last child down the stairs, because the noise level in the stairwell is too much for her hypersensitive hearing.  The high school that she would go to next year, the one that doesn’t have the right fit for her academically, will receive students from six different middle schools.  I cringe, imagining that noise, and all the new faces, all the kids that haven’t known her nearly as long as the peers she knows now.  Desperately, our daughter wants to have friends her own age.  She studies the yearbook and memorizes the names of the other kids at school, and she never forgets–that’s one of her strengths.  But as our daughter gets older, she begins to realize that most of the other kids don’t relate to her the way they do their neurotypical peers.  And she doesn’t understand why.  She doesn’t understand their jokes, their facial expressions, or their subtle insults, but she’s perceptive enough to discern that they don’t always approve of her or value her company.

Our daughter is smart and capable, a diligent student who has managed to work her way through hours and hours of homework; who has untangled language and coped with sensory stress and held her own these last years in a mainstream classroom.  Last quarter, she made the A/B Honor roll.  But as her eigth grade year progresses, she struggles more and more with the pace of the curriculum, the social stress, and the volume of sensory information in the traditional environment.  We’ve come to a fork in the road, and it’s clear that the traditional high schools offer no good options for her, no “right fits.”

Likewise, when it came time for my less verbal but equally capable autistic son to move on to middle school, it quickly became apparent that no options existed wherein he could continue to pursue his academic strengths and potential while working on functional skills at the same time.  We stood at a fork in the road.  In much the way that my daughter has been asked to choose between academics (and extreme anxiety) and vocation, we realized we would be forced to choose between discovering our son’s potential academically and seeing him develop much needed functional skills.  But I want both, I kept saying.  He should have both.  

Suddenly I stood face to face with a problem that is not unique to us, a problem well known to many of the exceptional needs parents we now know as our friends.  Because just as we were struggling over what to do for our son, we discovered Dynamic Community Charter School.  Dynamic is the first school of its kind in our state—a charter school for middle and high school students with developmental and intellectual disabilities.  It’s a sensory-friendly place, where everyone has an IEP and no one is “weird;” a small school where  project-based learning makes it possible for kids like my daughter to successfully continue the pursuit of an academic diploma.  Our daughter wants to attend Dynamic her 9th grade year, because even she can see that it’s time for a change. Dynamic stands in the gap, filling a need our traditional middle and high schools have yet to meet, but instead of supporting our efforts to create a model for the excellent education of children with exceptional needs, the “powers that be” have been set against our initiative from the beginning.

Years ago, professionals who cared about my children warned me about this problem:  You need to start fighting now for better options in middle and high school.

But honestly I wasn’t wise enough then to heed their advice.  I had not yet learned to look through my current chaos with all its velcro and picture schedules to the lanky years coming.  At the time, my elementary-aged children benefitted from a sound, inclusive education at a school I have come to know as a rare place, and so I focused on my current challenges, which felt overwhelming enough at the time.  In the midst of trying to coax out every new word and teach self care and steal my son back from his obsession with screens, it hardly seemed pertinent to start a letter writing campaign about middle school.  We had time, or so I thought.  It wasn’t yet my fight.  I always agreed, “I do need to do that.”  I did intend to be more forward-thinking.  But the days blurred as they do, and the heavy in my hands could not be set aside, and I put off my good intentions for a more opportune time.  That time never came.  Instead, suddenly, as though caught up in a wind, we found ourselves standing at that fork in the road, staring down two opposite paths, neither of which seemed appropriate for our kids.

Recently, without affording our school due process, the Charter School Advisory Board voted to recommend that the State Board of Education revoke or assume the charter of Dynamic Community Charter School.  They say that their biggest issue with our small school is the problems we’ve had with funding—problems that actually exist because of the public system itself. This year, Dynamic Community has been caught between the intersection of disability funding, which is delayed one year (meaning one-third of our students this year are not funded for their disability needs), and first year charter school funding, which limited our access to additional critical disability funding.  Long term, we have financial viability.  But beyond the funding issue, the truth is that we’re a round peg that doesn’t quite fit in all the square boxes they’ve made for exceptional education.  We’re trying to do a revolutionary thing that will make a significant difference for our kids and other kids like them, and no one in the establishment likes a revolution.  That’s why we need your help to fight this fight and keep our school open.

I’m asking you to learn from me, to be a little wiser than I was then, to see beyond your particular version of now to what lies ahead.  I’m asking you to think about what will happen to these amazing, exceptional kids—and the numbers grow by the day—if as a community we turn a blind eye to this problem and cast it—and them—aside.  I’m asking you how it could ever be right not to support the building of a school, an educational model, that can truly serve this population as they enter adolescence.  I’m asking you to stand up and expect the leaders of our community to take a different stance, to help rather than to discourage, to lead rather than maintain beaureacratic road blocks to progress.  See, this is your fight too.  The problem will not go away, and Dynamic Community Charter School offers a viable solution, if only we resolve to stand together.

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Three ways you can help right now:

gofundme button

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 Be part of our Dynamic Community and make a difference.

support crew {in honor of all of you}

Kevin bought a t-shirt for me at the expo, in a large white tent erected on a green lawn, in a “store” magically created and assembled and staffed for the Ironman Maryland event.  The t-shirt, which is my proud, happy race bling from the weekend, says IronMate, with the “M” a neon-pink Ironman M-Dot.  I love that it acknowledges my glad investment in my husband’s accomplishment and a joyful truth: hidden beneath every great achievement are the sacrificial offerings; the strong, loving, encouraging, burden-bearing hands of others who serve in support.  He bought our kids shirts too, each one different and fitting for their personalities, each one acknowledging that they too offered something to help him reach his goal.

I’m not even sure I’d know that lawn, that corner of road beside the marina in Cambridge, Maryland, were we to visit again apart from the Ironman event, the Ironman Village, the Ironman M-Dot logos decorating the bare bones of everything.  All weekend, we thought of our Dragons and this Dynamic Community, and each time I glimpsed the evidence of so much “behind the scenes,” I thought of how we all are in the lives of these fierce, persevering children.  As a community—families, paid staff, professionals, community volunteers—we make up their support crew.  And it’s no small thing to be the support crew that facilitates perseverance and accomplishment and the achieving of grand dreams.  We must not, in the “ordinary” chaos of our every day, forget the significance of the contribution we can make “behind the scenes,” the way our sacrifices and hard work and participation help our children press on and realize their full potential.  Every supporting investment is essential.

Before the athletes ever arrived for Ironman Maryland, a team of people—some city workers, some Ironman staff, some volunteers—came to the city of Cambridge, Maryland to prepare for the race.  Someone had to patch the road, because divots cause weary runners to fall right into injury.

photo from the Ironman Maryland Facebook page

photo from the Ironman Maryland Facebook page

Someone had to bend sweaty on the asphalt and mark the race course with tape and signs.  Support crews put together tents, built stadium seating, erected transition areas, lifted banners, and positioned arches through which the athletes would run on race day.  Support staff readied equipment that would track data and record times for the athletes at specific checkpoints.  A crew of people made it possible for spectators and loved ones and interested folks back home to track their favorite athletes online.  It takes audio systems and checks to be sure they’ll work reliably, tables for hydration and fuel, for first aid, for vendors.  It takes an army of people just to prepare for an Ironman event, and this just for a weekend.  The biggest contests–the Olympics, for example—take years of planning, preparation, and behind-the-scenes work.  So what of the things achieved in the course of lifetimes?  Well, it’s no light thing to be the support crew.

photo from the Ironman Maryland Facebook page

photo from the Ironman Maryland Facebook page

 

20140920_124856 (1)Thursday night, we pull into the hotel at dusk, tired from the week and hardly thinking of all of the in-advance things countless hidden hands have done to make the experience possible prior to our arrival at the venue.  Without these hard working people, the Ironman experience would not—could not—be the truly memorable milestone it becomes for those who participate, and it’s the anticipation of this latter thing that we initially embrace as we unfold ourselves from the car and rub the stiffness from our knees.

For the athlete, the Ironman experience begins as a dream, a seed of something challenging that maybe, hopefully they will see all the way to the grand finish.  For Kevin, getting to Ironman Maryland meant first that seed of maybe…could I do this, in honor of our kids, maybe to raise money for our school?  From there, it meant hours of training.  As a full-time dad with a full-time job and a signficant time investment in our church as well, Kevin woke up before light dawned almost every day between the time that he committed to this event and the actual execution of its accomplishment.  He ran out the door most days with a duffle bag in hand so that he could shower and change after exercise, before work and other responsibilities.  In the course of training, I doubt that he ever got the “ideal” amount of sleep.  Kevin’s Saturdays were spent doing longer and longer workouts in preparation for his Ironman, which would bring on more than 12-hours of physical endurance on his race day.  In the month prior to the race, Kevin devoted 7 to 8 hours every Saturday to his Ironman training.  As a family, we considered ourselves his personal support crew, making sacrifices to help him manage the hours of swimming, biking, and running that would ready him for this accomplishment.  We cheered him on enthusiastically, so proud of the commitment and discipline and ability that allows him to excel.

As we pull in at the hotel, we notice an SUV with a bike on the back ahead of us in the driveway.  A man built a lot like Kevin tends to the bike, and Kevin immediately guesses that he’s another competitor.  “Are you racing this weekend?” Kevin says, as we climb out and begin to gather our things, and the other man nods.  Easily, the two strike up a conversation about triathlon and this event, in much the way we all do when we recognize another family or teacher or crew member well-versed in the language of unique needs and unusual challenges.  We should feel grateful for each other, the way we can skip so much explanation, the way we can offer each other understanding without apology.  Before the two men finish their conversation, they’ve made plans to visit the race site together the next day, to get in a warm-up swim and bike ride.  I hear them making plans and it resonates with me, echoing with things I’ve recently heard at DCCS parent meetings about our kids spending time together after school hours, enjoying sleepovers and fun and mutual understanding.  That’s a rare gift that comes with community.  It is a happy gift that comes now with all of their hard work, because of what we’re building together. We should not take that for granted, nor ever cease fostering the kind of community that builds those relationships.  As it turns out, Kevin and his new friend Brian would not only spend most of the day together on Friday before the race, but they would also meet each other along the race course, encourage each other through, and celebrate together at the end.20140920_201615 (1)

The day before an Ironman event, support crews already work full time.  Athletes check-in for the event, and a whole staff of people handle registration in advance and then assemble and distribute packets.  When Kevin checks-in for Ironman Maryland, they give him a backpack full of information and samples.  There are also briefings for the athletes, wherein the race staff reviews regulations and special circumstances.  The athletes are given bags that will be kept for them at the transition areas, where they change clothes and prepare for the next part of the triathlon, as well as a bag that they can use for anything they wear to the race site that morning that they will not need during the event.  The transition bags must be checked-in prior to the event, when the athletes also check-in and drop-off their bikes, and the morning bags are checked-in by the athletes prior to the swim start, to be picked up after the race.  Volunteers organize all of the gear bags, as well as—in full-distance Ironman events—“special needs” bags for certain check points along the race course.  The athletes fill these with their own nutritional supplements, sunscreen, and other extras.  Volunteers organize all of the bags according to the bib numbers of the racers.  2000 athletes participated in Ironman Maryland.  That’s a lot of bags and a lot of bikes and a lot of hands managing some very expensive gear and equipment.

It’s no light thing to be the support crew.

20140920_145557 (1)Race morning, we wake early, at 3am—hours before the sun comes up—and I can’t help but think of our kids, and the way many of them have struggled for sleep.  Our daughter Riley, who has autism, used to wake up in those bare hours nearly every morning.  I have so many friends who have to use medication just to help their children rest.  And still, with never the “ideal” amount of sleep, our kids persevere.

Kevin and I park in the dark, and then the waiting begins for me.  Most of the day will take him places I can’t go—the transition areas, the course, the finish shoot.  Volunteers check wristbands as the athletes enter the transition area, to be sure no one enters who will not be participating in the race.  My job for the day is an enthusiastic one.  I’m here to wait on Kevin, to crazy-cheer and forget myself, to celebrate every milestone, especially the finish.  We had discussed the probable length of each leg in Kevin’s Ironman journey in advance, and I thought I’d have time during some of the longer stints for other work.  I brought my computer with me.  As it turned out, I could only think about the race and supporting Kevin through it.

I wait maybe a half hour outside the transition area for Kevin to return from finishing last minute pre-race things like having a bike maintenance person (more support staff—are you gathering the list?) check his brakes, and I am caught up in the excitement, in the stream of people gathering for the day.  It’s going to be a momentous event.  I can feel it.  The enthusiastic voices of the race announcers create a background for all the hustle and bustle, setting a tone from the beginning.  These two men will communicate all day about the race, everything from reminders to athletes to sharing their stories to announcing their victories.  I can’t help but think about how they foster a spirit of encouragement, comraderie, and support, just by the way they offer information.

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Just like that, the morning melts, and with it the darkness.  I blink and it’s time to wish Kevin well and see him join the pack of swimmers moving toward the water.

20140920_063831As the sun rises, I look out over the river and gather in the silhouttes of so many men and women in canoes and gathered on board boats to watch over the swimmers’ safety.  The swim portion of the race is by far the most dangerous and the wait through it on shore by far the most difficult.  It comforts me to see all of the people who have assembled for safety—the volunteers, the race staff, the Coast Guard.

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Kevin fiinishes the swim portion of the race in just under 2 hours, and I prepare myself for nearly a six hour wait while he’s on the bike, thinking about how patient we learn to be as the support crew for our exceptional children.  Every milestone matters, and sometimes their progress comes slowly and takes years to develop fully.  Through the waiting, it can be difficult to maintain our belief in possibility, to keep our eyes focused on their limitless potential.  While I wait for Kevin, the race announcers share stories with us about the athletes and their lives, about whom they race to honor and what many of them have overcome to be out on the course today.  As I listen, it occurs to me that this is often how we support each other as a community too.  We share our stories, and in so doing, we spur each other on to remain steadfast in support of our amazing children.

When the swimmers exit the water, volunteers called wetsuit strippers help them peel out of their wetsuits.  Then the athletes run into the transition area, where still more volunteers hand them their transition bags.  They take the bags into a changing tent to prepare for the next portion of the race.  Volunteers stay in these changing tents all day to assist the athletes as they transition.  Throughout the race, I hear the announcers call out special thank you’s to these tireless volunteers, who have given themselves over to some of the most tedious efforts of the day.

At around 3 in the afternoon, I spot Kevin riding back into the transition area on his bike, and I forget myself completely, yelling for him and running crazy beside him, asking him how things are going so far for him.  I almost run into someone as I go all hoppy and crooked, with my eyes trained on Kevin’s face.  I smile that no one even bats an eye over my behavior, not even the silver-haired man I nearly run into, and all because they have either already had their own turn at it or soon will.  In fact, at many times throughout the day, other spectators even join me in my cheers.  All day, in fact, I feel bouyed along by the encouragement of others who comment on my posts or retweet them as a show of support.  I feel surrounded by a whole crowd of people cheering with me from afar.  At some point later in the evening, I comment to Kevin that it would be beautiful if we always did that kind of cheering for each other even just in the every day churning of living.  But in the middle, I think again of all of you and how we cheer together for our kids, how everyone understands and joins each other in wildly celebrating things that might not seem as significant to others who don’t share our journey or belong to this community.

More volunteers meet Kevin at the transition area and rack his bike for him, still others call out his bib number and gather his transition bag to hand him as he runs into the changing tent to prepare for the run.  Once again, I collect up a single thought:  It’s no small thing to be the support crew.  It’s a diligent, committed, steadfast, often repetitive effort that makes the race happen and facilitates the accomplishment of these athletes.  Likewise, our steadfast, committed, sacrificial investment in this community as the support team for our students builds and bears memorable fruit.  We facilitate their accomplishment with our investment and should never take that opportunity lightly.

Within minutes, Kevin runs back out of the changing tent, where more volunteers slather sunscreen all over his shoulders before he starts his marathon run.  A few yards down the course, other volunteers hold out their hands, offering cups of water and sports drink to the runners.  I am teary thinking of all that Kevin has accomplished already as well as the 26 miles still left before he runs into the finish shoot and all the people who have made the day’s efforts possible.

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Kevin raises his arms as he leaves on the run, raising them in honor of our persevering kids and all the challenges they have already overcome, all the milestones they still must reach.

It takes Kevin roughly 4 and a half hours to finish the marathon, but for me, that time is broken into increments of waiting between sighting and cheering for him.  The run course makes three loops, so I am able to glimpse him and yell encouragement multiple times, jumping up and down with my fists in the air.  In the space between, other runners sometimes ask me the time of day (because you lose track during an endurance event) or other spectators tell me a bit of their own stories.  I am touched that communities of people can come together so easily around a common purpose, and thankful that our Dynamic Community has discovered the same gift in each other.

The last time Kevin passes me, it’s mile 18.  I yell to him that I will see him at the finish, and I leave immediately to find a spot there to wait with the crowds of celebratants.  Another spectator walks with me from where we stood along the course to a place near the finish shoot.  He doesn’t know my name and I don’t know his, just that his wife is racing today and it’s her first full Ironman too.  We share stories as we walk, and exchange pleasantries before going our separate ways when we reach the finish line.  I stand cheering for the athletes running in, swallowing so much emotion every time the announcers call out to them, announcing their victories.

20140920_184658 (1)Some of the runners lift their arms as they run–or stumble—down the shoot.  Some catch high fives from the crowds as they go by, and always a small group shouts a little louder and snaps pictures and runs to find them at the end.  The encouragers, the celebrating crowds make up an important part of the support crew too.  Their voices matter to these athletes.  I clap and cheer and refresh the athlete tracker on my phone, noting Kevin’s pace as he passes through each checkpoint, until finally I know he has less than two miles to go.  I train my phone on the finish line, and the people next to me smile, knowing that my athlete must be due to arrive at any moment.  It’s hard to put into words what it’s like to know all that it took to get to a moment like that and then to see it happen, to spend the day thinking about all the people that made the day possible, how their efforts—our efforts—supported Kevin’s hard work and facilitated his accomplishment, culminating in such a grand moment.  But I don’t have to explain, really, do I?  You know what it’s like…You’ve watched your children—our children—press on through so much and work so hard to make progress.  You’ve gathered up their hard work and all the other faces and hands and voices and efforts—the support crew–it took to facilitate their success, and you’ve celebrated and felt that same joy rise up in your throat.  You know, and this is why Kevin raced in honor of them and in honor of you, too.  And so you know already that no one’s contribution to achievement is insignificant.  You know that it’s no light thing to be on the support crew.  You know the strength we all find together to accomplish grand things, achievements that begin as just a hope, just the seed of something exceptional.

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a bit about Sotos Syndrome and one of our Dragons

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Our journey with Sotos Syndrome began on 12/14/2002 when my son Daniel was born. I didn’t know it then, but we were about to go on a very long journey together. Daniel was diagnosed just five days before his first birthday.

Sotos Syndrome is a deletion or mutation on the NSD1 gene, which is a fancy way of saying that Daniel has an overgrowth disorder. Sotos causes OCD, ADHD, hypotonia (low muscle tone), anxiety and developmental delays. It’s a very complicated disorder because it presents differently in each individual and causes a wide-range of challenges. For example, some kids with Sotos will never speak, but those that do tend to talk a lot (which is Daniel’s case).

Early intervention is the key to helping Sotos kids get further in life, so needless to say,  our first three years were a blur!  Most parents mark a child’s first year by the developmental milestones that they reach, but I marked Daniel’s first year with the names of each specialist we met. There were times when we had about six appointments a week! We saw Physical Therapists, Speech Therapists, and Occupational Therapists at least twice a week.

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Daniel has had problems with his knees, because he grows so fast that his body can’t keep up.  Daniel’s tendons stretch so tight that they force his knee cap out of alignment. We feel so thankful for a good Chiropractor!  Daniel also  has problems with his teeth (Sotos kids have low enamel), as well as issues with reflux, which is common for children with Sotos Syndrome.

Daniel will probably always have some issues that are both physical and behavioral in nature.  However, in most ways he’s a normal kid. He loves to play baseball (he’s a Miracle Leaguer) and basketball.  He loves riding his bike, going to the dog park, and reading. He also really loves being a Dragon! I really believe that getting him into DCCS has been one of the best things I have done for him. He’s so happy there. I hope that all of your kids are having enjoying the school as much as Daniel.

Kellie Penny
Proud Mom of Daniel
Super Sotos Mom
President of the SSSA
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A huge thank you to Kellie Penny for sharing a bit of Daniel’s story and teaching us all about Soto’s Syndrome!  Dragon families:  We would love to share your story too!  Please email us if we can feature your uniquely wonderful Dragon in a future blog post!

meet DCCS TA, Kailey Singleton

Kailey SingletonIt’s such a pleasure to introduce you all to DCCS TA, Kailey Singleton!

When I asked Kailey what she hoped to offer our Dynamic Community, she said, “I am very creative! I have lots of ideas for fun games that can include people with all abilities. I can bring a lot to the table from my past experience. I have a way of being able to “turn that frown upside down” and plan to use it whenever I see someone is in need of a little cheering up.”  The way she describes herself–“goofy, creative, dependable,” makes me smile because I immediately imagine that her presence at DCCS brings with it a reliable wealth of bright fun and enthusiasm.   As someone who openly admits that she’s shy and has anxiety, Kailey understands how many of our students feel about new people and situations.  About her anxiety she writes,  “I carry it well and am not afraid to tell people. I don’t see it as a bad thing! It makes me a better person and it’s just part of being myself. Once I get to know you, I can be very goofy and make you laugh.”

Kailey enjoys seeing children with developmental and intellectual disabilities grow and “develop into wonderful individuals.”  She is happy to be part of their lives, to spend time with them, to get to know them personally.  She writes, “I learn so much from them and we learn from each other.”  For the last four years, Kailey volunteered at a therapeutic horseback riding program for individuals with special needs two days each week.  When I asked her specifically about what she’s learned from children like our students, she said, “I have learned more than I could ever hope to express in words, but I will do my best! I have gained so much experience by being able to be side by side with all the people I have worked with. I have learned patience, compassion, and to celebrate the little things in life. I’ve learned never to take things for granted and always offer a helping hand. I’ve also learned that life is more enjoyable when you keep smiling and looking on the bright side of things. So many individuals I have worked with have gone through so much in their lives, but they don’t let it bring them down. They keep moving on, and that is so admirable. I am continually learning from them and look forward to each and every day I get to spend with them.”

Kailey was born in California and her family traveled around a lot when she was a child.  “We settled in Wisconsin about 12 years ago and that’s where I attended high school. I have 1 older brother and 1 younger sister, yes I am the middle child,” she writes.  Kailey moved to Raleigh on July 20th, urged by her brother to try life in NC.  She says she loves it so far.  She was referred to DCCS for a staff position by a family friend whose son is a DCCS student.

Kailey loves swimming, and says, “You can catch me in the pool if I have a free afternoon, and it’s above 70 degrees outside (I’m from Wisconsin, so 70 or higher is swimming weather! ha!).”  She shares that moves have always been a great source of fun in her family, adding that they have always stayed up late at night watching them or even going to midnight showings.  She says her favorite movie is The Sandlot, because “it’s a classic movie I always watched with my brother that covers friendship, and trust while making me laugh and teaching me how to make the perfect S’more!”  Kailey also enjoys interior decorating (“A lot of friends and family have told me my apartments should be featured in a DIY magazine!”); going to the park and hiking a trail with my brother, his wife, and their dog (which would be part of her ideal Saturday, along with sleeping in, a trip to Starbucks, and a movie night in); and playing board games or “Zelda on the Wii or my old Nintendo64.”

I asked Kailey how we can support and encourage her in her work at DCCS, and she responded this way, “As long as I can be part of the conversation and get to have input, I will feel very supported! I already am feeling the support from all the staff/parents/volunteers I have met so far. I feel we have a very DYNAMIC team!”

Thank you, Kailey, for being an enthusiastic and creative part of our Dynamic team! We’re certainly better because your presence among us!

 

Kailey "being silly" with her cat, Rollo

Kailey “being silly” with her cat, Rollo

meet DCCS teacher and Special Education Coordinator, Dawn Giasi

Dawn 1Just before our school year began, I visited our DCCS staff for a brief meeting about my son’s diabetic care, and I felt immediate gratitude for the investment of the entire group.  As a community, we should feel so enthusiastic about our future endeavors in education.  We have the fully engaged commitment of a very Dynamic group of professionals, and among them, Dawn Giasi’s sharp, motivated attention.  Throughout our brief meeting, she asked questions and made notes, and I left so grateful for her clear and undivided intention to do her best for my son, whom she’d just met.  Even before I read her responses to my online interview, I knew that every DCCS family could anticipate the same intention with regard to their own precious students.

So, without further ado, it’s with great pleasure that we introduce you to Dawn Giasi, DCCS middle school teacher and Special Education Coordinator!

Ms. Giasi comes to us with 24 years of experience working with children with emotional and physical disabilities.  She has a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s degree in Human Services Leadership and Special Education, as well as a Supervisory Certification and a Middle School Math Certification.  She writes, “I am also a Certified National Trainer for Time to Teach, which is classroom management system that recovers instructional time and improves a school’s climate.”  Ms. Giasi taught special education (Inclusion, Resource, and Self-contained) in New Jersey and in North Carolina before she became part of the DCCS professional staff.

In addition to this wealth of expertise, Dawn Giasi brings her deep desire to “offer whatever is needed whenever it is needed” and her excitement for project-based learning.  “Project-Based Learning is such an engaging and exciting educational experience that focuses on the students and gives them a voice,” she says. “The DCCS approach is all about the students and letting them know they are an important part of our team.  After working with the staff preparing for our ‘Grand Opening’, I can honestly say the enthusiasm in our school excites me. Creative ideas for lessons, projects, and activities are abundant. Every single staff member has shared their expertise and experiences and the result is a Dynamic School abounding with positive energy.”

When I asked Ms. Giasi if she would say that working with children with developmental and intellectual disabilities has made her a different person or reinforced things that are important to her, she said, “Absolutely! I have learned patience, maintained gratitude, counted my blessings, received tons of hugs, and rejoiced over many achievements.” In fact, sharing joy over accomplishment is one of her favorite things about teaching children such as ours.  It touched me to learn that Ms. Giasi considers her students to be her mentors, noting that they teach her every day how to be a better teacher/person.  She also cherishes the lasting bonds she forms with her students and appreciates that they help her to find delight as she learns to “‘re’see simple things through another’s eyes.”

With three grown children (as well as three dogs and three cats), Ms. Giasi, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, is devoted to family.  She describes her ideal Saturday as a day that involves having family over for dinner, and includes the Harry Potter Series by J.K.Rowling among her all-time favorite books because she spent two years reading them to her son (who had a reading disability) every night after dinner, snuggled up in a big chair.  It’s still a special memory for both of them.  Ms. Giasi loves to spend time with family and friends doing everything from traveling to home renovations.  She includes both of these and also writes, “we love amusement parks with big roller coasters, going to a play, playing games, watching a good movie, [and] golfing.”  Ms. Giasi, who describes herself as “caring, helpful, and motivated,” also mentions reading, painting furniture, playing dominoes, gardening, casual hiking, and skydiving among her other interests.  Clearly she savors life and lives it vibrantly, and I have little doubt that she passes that vibrance and enthusiasm on to each one of her students at DCCS.

So how can we support and encourage Ms. Giasi in her efforts as part of our Dynamic Community?  She says that a genuine smile makes her feel appreciated, and asks that we “keep doing what you have been doing, which is communicating and being proactive. Thank you for that.”

Thank you, Ms. Giasi, for all that you invest in our community and pour into teaching our students!

a proposal for beginning well {since it’s the first day of school}

Okay, let’s admit it:  When it comes to our kids, we can be fierce.  Protective, sensitive, and commanding, even.  As a group, we’ve been knocked around a bit by “the system,” and we can smell the runaround from a mile away.  We’re not new to advocating, and we’re seasoned fighters.  One of us says, “But now, mess with my kids, and,” and another of us nods in agreement.  It’s these realities about us and our parenting that make us strong, committed, invested, resourceful, and willing to hang in despite formidable odds.  As a community, we can, will, and have harnessed this Dragonish Force to build an excellent school for our children.

But the same facts that offer us considerable collective strength could, if not carefully guarded, also cause us to crumble from within.

Every time my children start at a new school, I have to start all over establishing a relationship with educators and specialists, and it hasn’t always been easy.  I guess teachers and administrators encounter so many different kinds of parents that it takes a while for them to figure out which kind I am, whether or not I’m invested, educated, aware, resourceful, reasonable, and patient (among many other things) and to what degree.   Generally, I’m a very positive, open person.  I try to be kind and compassionate to everyone, but mess with my kids, and…Well, you know.

When my daughter Riley entered sixth grade, I gave her core teachers exactly two weeks to discover and read all of her paperwork—IEP, medical orders, etc—before I asked for a conference. I wanted to be sure they were aware of her needs.  I waited one week, and only one, before I sent an email to the team, introducing myself and throwing out that since my greatest concern was that she would not be able to take notes well (motor planning, and all that), I had purchased a small voice recorder for her to bring to class, and I wonder if she could go ahead and start recording classes?  I told them we could call an IEP meeting about this, of course, but I preferred that she not miss any important instruction.  They kindly and promptly replied that they would be happy to discuss the recording possibility at their next team meeting, but that in the interim, I should not worry.  Apparently all of the kids were just learning note taking, and all of the teachers would be posting their notes online for easy accessibility.  Excellent.  Except I looked every day, and one of the teachers never  posted any notes.   I waited.  And I waited.  I remembered the advice I have given for years to groups of parents transitioning their kids from Pre-K classrooms to elementary-level programs: Don’t begin with the assumption that you have to fight.  Go in to the first meeting believing these professionals intend to do their best for your student.  Believe that until you have good reason to believe otherwise.  I knew that beginning on the offensive can undermine the strenth of the team.  I had heard some of my favorite teachers say that it immediately puts them on the defensive and makes them less comfortable suggesting new approaches. So, I repeated this mantra in my head: Be patient.  Believe the best.  Be patient.  Believe the best.  And I waited.  Days gave way to a week.  And another.  Still, no notes.  And my daughter, with her compromised communication abilities, could not tell me anything she was learning in that class when I asked.  A week later, the teacher gave a quiz, and my daughter  failed it.  I was not happy.  And I became that parent.  I called an IEP team meeting and took all of my binders to school—all of my documentation—and plunked it on the table in front of me.  I pushed a piece of paper across the table.  Here’s what I want.  Not only now did I want printed notes, I also wanted copies of the textbooks.  I wanted them to allow her to record class lectures.  I wanted study guides before tests.

In retrospect, I know that my approach to this whole situation wasn’t all bad.  Sometimes as parents of exceptional children, especially in the traditional school setting, we have to show our claws a little to see our children receive the interventions they need. Sometimes, our IEP teams have not been teams at all.  Sometimes, no one reads the paperwork unless you call a conference.   But my approach wasn’t all good either.  Here’s what I discovered:

I didn’t have all of the information before I went into “crazy mom” mode.  I looked across the table, and the teacher in question looked a little stunned.  As we talked, I could tell he was a friendly guy.  He explained that it was his first year teaching Social Studies, but that he wanted it to be fun.  “My class doesn’t involve a lot of note taking,” he said.  “We have discussions, do activities; it isn’t all sitting and listening.  And I’m not so worried about the tests.  I give them the option to correct them later and raise the grade.”

I didn’t ask enough questions before I started making demands.  In the meeting, I asked the question that was most immediately on my mind: Hmm, so how is my daughter supposed to learn anything concrete?  Her challenges make it hard for her to make inferences.  Asking the question opened up a whole discussion about how to help Riley learn concrete things in new ways, an approach that would be good for her socially and help her build skills in weak areas.  Some of my demands would have forced her teacher to use methods that would actually be less meaningful to her in the longterm.  At the same time, her teachers readily agreed that other things on my list were important.

I didn’t give our teachers enough time to learn the students before I jumped in.  Riley’s teacher explained that in the first month of school, the sixth grade teachers really give the kids a lot of room to learn the ropes.  “This is all new to them,” he said.  “In the first week, we’re mostly just trying to help them learn how to open lockers and change classes and balance the new expectations that come with middle school.  We try to get to know them first, before we take in all the impressions of teachers they have had in the past.”  I realized that the teachers had more patience with the students than I had shown with them in those early weeks.  I had gone against my own good advice and had assumed my daughter would be overlooked and that no one would read her paperwork.  I had expected to have to prove myself as a parent.  And so, from the beginning, my behavior set things in motion to see those expectations become a reality.   In truth, the teachers were trying to learn their students and get to know them first, to give them a chance to make a fresh start.  They wanted to believe the best and expect the most before they had good reason not to do so.

It is always a good thing to advocate for our children, always important to be sure that we do everything we can to give them the best opportunity for success.  The fierce dedication we have to our kids is one of the things that gives us, our children, and now their new school a very strong foundation for building.  And at DCCS, we have the rare opportunity to decide to work together well from the very first day the doors open:  today.  We have the opportunity to build something very special.  At this school, we have one assurance from the start:  Everyone invested—from Board members, to administrators, to teachers, to staff members, to parents–cares about our children and their needs.  Everyone wants to see our children succeed and grow and learn.  That’s the reason this school exists.  Yes, we can expect that all the paperwork will be read and that the interventions needed will be offered.  But we’re all involved in something new—new to the students, new to the staff, and new to us—and learning each other and tweaking our processes will take time.  In order to see it all unfold in the most constructive way, we all may need to retrain our thinking a bit and retract the parental claws for a while.  Ultimately, what we’re doing here will be better still if we can resolve together to be patient; believe the best; ask questions first, before making demands (our teachers welcome emails!); and give our teachers ample time to learn their students before we come in plunking down all our documentation.

So, in light of all this, I think  it makes sense, on the very first day of school, to propose a CIP for all of us, the families who love these extraordinary DRAGONS.  I know, it’s an IEP they each have (or will), but I honestly couldn’t figure out how to make those letters say what I wanted, because ultimately, this is about community investment that leads to an excellent individual education for every student.


Community Investment Program

Name: Dragon Families

School: Dynamic Community Charter School


Present Level(s) of Achievement and Functional Performance:  As a community, the DCCS Dragon families have assembled in parent committees and offered their resources and talents to help build an innovative educational environment in which our students can thrive.  When faced with a considerable challenge to raise $100,000 in one month to open our school on time, Dragon families joined the Board and other members of the community at large to raise over $105,000.  Dragon families remained unified and committed.  Some Dragon families still need to get involved.  Dragon families still need to practice community investment in every way possible, including but not limited to exploring long term fundraising opportunities.

Dragon families need to do everything they can to support our school from the beginning, as it opens, and also as it continues to grow, change, develop, and make progress.  Dragon families need to recognize and continue to understand their very significant role in buiding our Dynamic Community.


Annual Goal

Functional Goal

Dynamic Community Charter School Dragon families will exercise patience and offer gracious support to our professional staff and our Board of Directors as we embark on our first school year together.

Benchmarks or Short-Term Objectives

1. Given a missed detail, such as an intervention not immediately recognized or remembered, parent will exercise patience in 4 out of 5 trials.  Parent will remember that waiting for a brief time (which is actually an active, not a passive behavior) allows challenged individuals a better opportunity to succeed.

2. Given an initially confusing exchange, conversation, or gap in communication, parent will believe that the professional staff at Dynamic Community has the best interests of every student at heart in 4 out of 5 trials.  Many of us have experienced advocacy as a battle instead of a team effort.  At Dynamic, we’re building a school where advocacy for all of our children is a community effort.  This isn’t “the same old thing,” so let’s not treat it that way.  Parent will remember that with eccentricity, “awkwardness,” and difficulties with communication come brilliance, resourcefulness, and exceptional potential.  These hidden qualities are more readily discovered in a safe, accepting environment.

3. Given unforeseen “hiccups” in scheduling or initially unmet expectations, parent will ask questions before making assumptions about what has been decided, planned, or intended in 4 out of 5 trials.  Parent will remember that if every day at home carries with it unanticipated challenges, “unreasonable” meltdowns, and small, but significant, gains, then every day for our new school will also include the same.

4. Given a list of significant goals and measures of progress, parent will remember and practice  the “one step at a time” or “first this, then that” approach to improvement in 4 out of 5 trials.


Describe how progress toward the annual goal will be measured: Data collection by way of smiles on the faces of our staff members, Board members, and invested members of our community; through the amount of enthusiasm with which we mutually celebrate even the smallest milestones and evidence of progress among us; in the success, progress, and thriving of every DCCS student.

meet Mr. Britt

Mr. Britt

It’s our pleasure to introduce you to DCCS 8th, 9th, and 10th grade English and Social Studies teacher, Dustin Britt!

Mr. Britt, who grew up in Knightdale and attended Wake County Public Schools, is the middle of four siblings, “one of whom,” he writes, “—my hearing impaired younger brother—inspired me to work with individuals with exceptional needs.”  In 2009, Mr. Britt graduated from the University of North Carolina with a B.S. in Deaf Education and a minor in Anthropology.  He went on to earn a M.A.Ed. in Special Education, with a concentration in Learning Disabilities, from East Carolina University.  For the last four years, Mr. Britt has worked in the Franklin County School System as an Exceptional Children’s teacher and as the chairperson of his department.  He writes, “When the kids are having a positive experience, I am having a positive experience.  I am only as happy and successful as my students.”

As someone who struggled with a learning disability in math during his middle and high school years, Mr. Britt remembers “the frustrations that come along with being a student who feels different and left behind.”  He says that children with intellectual and developmental disabilities are often “the most interesting and engaging students in a school, though few take the time to get to know them.”  Mr. Britt’s students have, as he puts it, “permanently changed” his life “for the better.”  He shares that at the beginning of his teaching career, old anxieties still resonated and caused him to struggle with volunteering to co-teach in high school math classrooms.  He had little faith in his abilities as a mathematician.  Mr. Britt’s students inspired him with their hard work and perseverance, and their example spurred him on to co-teach Algebra.  “For a full school year, I spent my evenings re-learning all of the math that I never understood in school,” He writes.  “I developed strategies that helped me learn the material and communicated these strategies to my students. Three years later, I was teaching math resource classrooms full of students with a variety of special needs.”

Mr. Britt says that he understands the way children with exceptional needs think, and adds, “We encourage each other in overcoming obstacles.”  He feels that students, families, and teachers continue to lose influence in public education, and is most excited about the teacher-directed programming model that is a significant aspect of our approach at Dynamic Community Charter.  He enjoys finding and practicing creative approaches to education, and says, “As challenging as school is for struggling learners, I enjoy working with students, parents, and other teachers to create lessons and activities that are engaging, challenging, and fun for our students.”  Mr. Britt feels certain that  “DCCS’s flexibility and willingness to incorporate teachers’ experiences and ideas into planning” will make our school “a more positive and encouraging environment for everyone involved,” and goes on to say that he is “very excited to be joining a team that values collaboration and invention. We have an opportunity to design our own system, and to experiment with any and all strategies that work for our students.”

Mr. Britt has over 15 years of experience as a theatrical designer, director, writer, singer, and actor, and he would like to develop some extra-curricular activites at DCCS involving theater and performance, including an after-school care program in theater.  He notes, “There is so much fun to be had, and many things to learn, through acting and movement.”  When asked what he hopes to offer and share with our Dynamic Community, he writes, “I hope to offer my passion for learning, my dedication to student development, and the skills I have developed over the last few years. I hope to learn and grow as a teacher with help from co-workers, our students, and their families.”

Self-described as “compassionate, creative, and open-minded,” Mr. Britt credits his students with inspiring him “to become more patient, creative, and optimistic than ever before.”  He admits that in his personal life he enjoys playing video games and is a “loyal Nintendo fan,” mentioning particular interest in Zelda, Mario, Rock Band, and Donkey Kong Country.  “I wear my ‘nerd’ badge proudly!” He writes.  Mr. Britt also plays piano.  He says that an ideal Saturday involves, “sleeping in late, relaxing with a book, and going out to dinner and a movie with friends,” and offers that his favorite book is The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub.  “As a teenager, I related strongly to the main character, Jack Sawyer, who journeys across the country—and a fantasy realm—to obtain a magical talisman and save his mother’s life. Though the book is written for adults, it captures the excitement,fears, and insecurities of being a child facing larger-than-life obstacles and how those obstacles can be overcome,” he explains.

How fortunate we all are that Mr. Britt has joined our Dynamic Community!  As a creative, resourceful, dedicated teacher who loves finding inventive ways to engage his students, he will be a great asset to our students, our school, and our community.  We feel grateful to have educators like Dustin Britt among us who understand so much not only about how our students learn, but also about how our students feel as they face “larger-than-life obstacles.” Welcome, Mr. Britt!

meet Georgia Hayward, teacher’s assistant

we love our staff

“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a good teacher.” ~Temple Grandin

To Temple Grandin’s emphasis, we add another:  We can’t emphasize enough the importance of a good teaching assistant, someone who believes her role as a member of our staff to be both critical and adventurous.

Georgia Hayward looks forward to “working in a school where everyone is much more understanding of the special needs community.”  She believes that with that understanding will come “unbelievable support.”  Mrs. Hayward describes herself as a “fun-loving, creative, and friendly” person who hopes to share with our Dynamic Community her passion for working with children with special needs, her drive to do her best and to take initiative when possible, and her sense of humor and laughter.

Mrs. Hayward found out about our school through one of our parents.  She has prior experience assisting in an AU2 classroom (a separate classroom for children with autism in grades 3 through 5) and has also worked as a camp counselor at Camp G.R.A.C.E. .  She grew up in Raleigh and attended Appalachian State University, where she majored in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and minored in Philosophy.  Mrs. Hayward and her husband Simon share a happy home with their two cats, Steve and Lola.

When we asked Mrs. Hayward about her favorite parts of working with children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, she wrote, “What I love most about working with children with special needs is that everyday is new. Everyday these children will surprise you with all that they are capable of, they will challenge you to be better than you ever thought you could be, they will make you laugh and even make you cry, and there is rarely a dull moment. As someone who enjoys games and puzzles, I enjoy the challenge of figuring out the best way to work with each individual and to encourage them to rise to their full potential. The feeling you get when a child learns something new or meets a goal after you’ve been working so hard with them to get there is amazing.”  She’s a teacher’s assistant who also greatly values what students like ours teach her as well, things like “patience of which [she] never knew [she] was capable.” Mrs. Hayward elaborates, “I have learned to be more flexible with unexpected changes or delays to the day. These children have taught me a new way of looking at the world and new ways of communicating within it. Working with these children has reinforced the importance of finding the joy and laughter in the things I do throughout the day.”

In her spare time Mrs. Hayward enjoys collecting and building Lego, going to Carolina Railhawks games, playing games, baking, watching movies, and reading.  Her favorite movies tend to be comedic, action-packed films, because she loves to laugh.  Some of her favorite movies include Star Wars, Casablanca, The Lord of the Rings, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, and some of her favorite books include the Harry Potter series, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series, and A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami.  She enjoys reading books “that offer completely new perspectives than my own of the world or that offer an entirely new world,” because, she says, “I enjoy seeing things from another point of view.”

We are excited to introduce you to Mrs. Hayward, because we believe she will bring vibrancy, laughter, and creativity to our Dynamic Community.  Her affinity for puzzling out resourceful solutions, considering new and different perspectives from every angle, and taking initiative whenever possible makes her an ideal member of our educational staff.  Welcome, Mrs. Hayward!  In these future months, she says that we can make her feel appreciated by offering kind words whenever they are inspired and appropriate.

thank you

imageedit_354_9433613695

Thank you.

Thank you so much for Thursday.

Thank you for July.

Thank you, friends, family, and community for over $105,000 raised for Dynamic Community Charter School and our exceptional students.

My daughter Riley has autism, and when she was in kindergarten, a teacher in a mainstream art classroom made her (and two other special education students like her) sit in the hallway while she taught her lesson to the rest of the class.  Her kindergarten teacher felt so upset about this that she called to tell me about it, and the news cut right into me, slicing into places of grief, still tender.

In the early years of a diagnosis, our prevailing feeling as special needs parents is loneliness.  Comparison with other families—our children with their “typically developing” peers–leaves us feeling isolated and alien.  Expressions of disgust and impatience and embarrassing humor over our eccentricities leave us sensitive and sore.  We never really stop feeling those things.  The memories sting and the experiences leave scars, even as we grow and learn a more complete perspective.  That day, when I learned that my daughter had been sent from the room because of her challenges, my whole body hurt.  I pressed the phone to my ear.  “What?”  My voice sounded faint and foreign even to me.  I felt like I couldn’t breathe, but somehow I managed to say, “I would like to schedule a conference.  Immediately.”

We sat across from each other, the art teacher, the principal, the kindergarten teacher, and I, and the art teacher told me that she just didn’t know what to do anymore.  “I have no assistant, and I keep having to take extra time with these special education students.  They don’t belong with the other students.  I just thought it was time for the rest of us to get to move on.”

I blinked.  I did not trust myself to speak without a moment to swallow the pain burning in the back of my throat.  I just thought it was time for the rest of us to get to move on.  Right.

I understand that you don’t have enough help,” I managed to say, a little too slowly.  “But you should never put my daughter—or any other students—out in the hall without supervision.”  That year, Riley had been so upset about being in a new school, so overwhelmed, that she stopped speaking during those hours away from home.  She was scared silent.  “Riley doesn’t speak,” I said to this teacher, measuring my words, holding them carefully in my mind before I released them.  “She does not know how to tell you that she’s afraid, that she doesn’t understand.”

“I just didn’t know what else to do.  It’s not fair to the other students that I have to take so much time with her.”

“I understand that teaching her is a challenge,” I gasped, trying to breathe, “but what you’re saying to me, what you said to her, what you told every other student in your classroom when you put her in the hallway, is that because she has more challenges and needs more help, she should be set aside so that everyone else can move on.  You are teaching children that people who are different are not worth their time.”

“But I don’t think she should be in that class.  She’s not ready for that class.”

“Well, then you should have called a meeting of her IEP team to discuss that.  You should never treat any child as though they are not worthwhile because they require patience and extra effort.”  The words came out as exhales, because I forced myself to try, and they felt like not enough.

I would like to say that this particular teacher felt some remorse about what she had done, but if she did, she never expressed any regret over her choice.  For weeks and months after that day, I replayed the conversation in my mind, considering that teacher’s expression, her tone, the way she tossed her hands flippantly in the air while she spoke.  I share the story here by way of explaining that experiences like this one have not been unique to my family.  At one time or another, usually many, many times, all special needs parents feel the sting of that we just don’t want to be troubled with your needs kind of attitude.  In public, we sigh when our children and their eccentricities are impatiently misunderstood, when it seems that other people feel annoyed to have to put up with us.  In fact, part of our growing into this life with our children means learning to expect these kinds of attitudes and deciding how we will receive them.

So, I think it’s safe to say that many of us wondered if our community at large would understand how much our children need their school.  In order to ask for your help, some of us had to tear down some walls we’ve built to protect ourselves.  Many of us have learned, over time, to “fend for ourselves” as much as possible, to try not to expect understanding, to draw as little attention as possible to our needs and differences.

I tell you all of that so that you will know that when we say thank you for your generous support, for your encouragement, for your enthusiasm and inquiries and donations, we mean far more than our words can express well.  Many of you don’t have children who will be students at our school.  Some of you don’t know or love special needs children of your own.  Some of you don’t have children.  You are small business owners, professionals, grandparents, and concerned citizens.  You are our friends, our extended family, our neighbors.  You are people who believe that different doesn’t mean less, people who believe education matters, people who know that standard measures and methods aren’t always enough or right or best.  When you chose to give your money; when you chose to share our posts; when you came into work asking “what’s the total, are we there” making it “we” instead of “they,” you showed us that our important is also your important.  You showed us that you care.  You reminded us that we aren’t doing this alone.  You sealed over some old wounds, helped some tender places heal.

So when we say thank you to you–our friends, our family, and our community–for generously supporting us, our children, and our school,  it isn’t just a casual thing we say.  It’s a sincere acknowledgement that you have offered us shared strength and unity, that you stand with us as we embark on something so truly signficant for all of us.  You made an investment in us.  You stood up to say that our children and their education is important. You willingly made sacrifices on our behalf.  You have shown yourselves unwilling to set us and our children aside because we require patience and extra help.  You have been willing to do all that you can to walk through this with us.  That isn’t a small thing.  Thursday’s campaign success reduced many of us to tears.100,000

Fundraising co-chair Laura Kay Berry expressed it well when she wrote, “In the last thirty days, we really have built a dynamic community.”  You are all now part of our community, and we will walk with you too, through your so much.  In the days since the campaign officially ended, donations have continued to roll in.  To date, we have together raised over $105,000 to open Dynamic Community Charter School and offer middle and high school students with developmental and intellectual disabilities a school of their own built around on the foundational idea that they still have untapped and uncharted potential.  We have accomplished this as an entire community, and that heals and builds.

So, thank you, from all of us.

the art in us

amazing painting of son

Early evening and the sun still warm, we climb out of our cars and wander across the street and down the sidewalks, missing so many things our children  always absorb—the smallest sounds, the clip of our shoes and the slide of fabric; the things we hardly see, like the subtle shifting of shadows across the ground.  From the outside, a door and a window, a lettered sign—Stars Theater and Art Center, but no hint, no visible glint of the mysteries inside twinkles from without.

I sigh, releasing the day.  Just a few hours before, I sat in a doctor’s office with my children, waiting.  For reasons I can’t even yet begin to dissect, my daughter, who has autism, suddenly grew tense.  Her sister called her name, and the urgency of the tone made me look up from the paperwork in my lap.  My daughter’s eyes nervously skirted the edges of the waiting room.  She held her breath.  A few minutes more, and the sweat would gather on her forehead.  I set down my pen and reminded her to breathe, to relax her posture.  I spoke to her quietly, with my hand on her back.  Meanwhile, my son Adam, who also has autism and will be in the 6th grade at Dynamic this year, tapped his watch with his finger.  I heard him say, “Doctor’s office, until…” but at the moment, I couldn’t stop easing my daughter out of panic long enough to insist that he ask what he wanted to know with a question.  It is futile to ignore him when he asks about time, when he’s trying to iron out his schedule in his mind.  It’s like an itch he must scratch, and had I been as prepared as I’d like to be (but almost never manage to be), I’d have written this down for him before we walked into the office.  But I wasn’t so prepared, and when I am hyperfocused on one child’s anxiety, I sometimes tend toward futility.  So, I ignored Adam and rubbed my daughter’s back and showed her how to breathe, because when I told her breathe, she said, “I’m not sure how to do that.”  Beside me, Adam tapped his watch a little more insistently, and repeated with a little more volume, “Doctor’s office, until…”  I looked at him and gave him a time, adding an hour to the one displayed in structured black lines on his digital watch.  If Adam has a favorite possession, it’s that watch.  He loves time, and with that affection comes a lasar sharp promptness.  If I tell my son to be ready to go at a certain hour and minute, he will be at the door at exactly that moment, wearing shoes and socks and carrying his favorite “going somewhere” things—a few items uniquely important to him: a timer, a journal in which his older sister writes silly stories wherein crazy things happen at specific times, a numbered gratitude list (also in his older sister’s hand).  These are oddly beautiful details, rare nuances.  And yet, to other parents with children who have autism, these eccentricities feel familiar, somehow.  Every special needs parent knows what it is like to live puzzles and an overwhelming amount of juggling without very many pauses.  Often our public appearances feel like careful walks on a tight rope.  Often, it all just feels like so much.

rainbow tree

The afternoon at the doctor’s office, which only made up about an hour and half of our day, had capped off  a brand of chaos few others well understand.  I had carried all this with me on the drive to Fuquay Varina, and it was this I released, indulging in one more sigh before I walked through the door and into the art reception.  Sometimes it feels like there’s always just one more important thing to do, one more appointment to keep.  I had invited a handful of friends, most of whom mentioned other commitments in their regrets, and the few that had expected to make it begged off one by one in the hours before, the last as we drove over.  Many of these promised donations or had already generously made them, and I understood.  Walking in the door, I had my own mixed feelings.  Everything we do to Build our Dynamic Community is important, another foundational plank we bolt into place, but each one of us lives and breathes an exhausting amount of responsibility and juggling.  Presence is perhaps our most precious commodity.  We live present—doing as much as we possibly can with every step—for our amazing and exceptional children.  It’s easy to wonder if our specific appearance at fundraising events, committee meetings, social gatherings, and work parties will really make an impact.  And certainly, no one can attend everything.

snowy day painting

But I’m so glad I didn’t miss this.  Inside the Stars Theater and Art Center, Karen Raimondi’s art lights the walls with color and gives the atmosphere an ethereal quality.  The room twinkles.  Music–spun from the talented fingers of Karen’s son Nicholas and her nephew Ross–lilts, shaping scrolled edges around our conversations.  I walk in to waves and the embrace of new friends.  In the first moments of chatter about the day, we unfold the loose lines of our own specific challenges.  Instead of blank stares, we exchange nods and ideas.  We share resources and strategies and stories we’d hold a little tighter were it not for the fact that in present company we find rare understanding, and even team work.  By the piano, someone sings, and we pause in our conversation to listen to a beautiful voice.  The fundraising team has thought of every detail—warming trays full of savory pasta and barbeque, bowls of Italian pasta salad and sweet sauce, platters of fruit and cheese, tableclothed tables with bouquets of flowers and framed pictures of our students.  They have even organized a raffle for the end of the show.  In and through our getting to know each other we weave a common thread: the artwork is beautiful.  And the evening ends before we have hardly begun, with our deep gratitude and Karen’s humble tears.  At the end of an enchanting evening, we have raised $2182 for DCCS.

I can’t help thinking about how crazy time can be, how sometimes our frustrating, overwhelming moments stretch horribly long, while times of strength and unity and relief pass by so quickly.  And sometimes those longer moments can rob us of these precious shorter ones.  As I stand absorbing the room, it occurs to me that together, we’re an art, expressed a bit like one of Karen’s paintings that captured my attention.  She has painted a woman blurred at the edges, the lines of her stretching out like beams of light.  Her hair, her fingers, her form extends, even reaches.   Looking around, I see a room full of people blurring at the edges, extending, reaching, offering their individual talents and resources, their stories and understanding, to build a community.  It’s a powerful, elegant view of who we are at Dynamic Community Charter School.  We’re a community of people offering everything we can to build a better education, a better future for our children.  We share so much common ground, so much strength in this unified purpose.  But there’s something about seeing that represented clearly in our gathered presence, something our community at large needs to witness.  So many of us know, by experience,  the influence of a good visual aid.  I think our community needs to see the art in us to begin to understand the importance of what we’re doing.  So, let’s not take lightly the opportunities we have to attend and show up.   As much as we possibly can, let’s be present for each other.

visitingbeautiful ladieskids

*~*~*

Karen’s art show runs through the end of September, so it’s not too late to view and purchase her beautiful work!

Tonight, we have another opportunity to come out and show our unified support for our Dynamic Community.  Even if your day makes you sigh, think hard about being with us for this event!  You won’t regret it.

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