DUAL SCHOOLING WITH OUR AMAZING BOY
When I became pregnant with my third child, it was only natural that we started thinking about the adventures they would have with their big brothers at school.
We had a picture they would all have the same mementos and memories of school. You know, the same Year 6 jumper style, the same graduation folder, same camps, excursions and many other experiences.
I’m not sure if I’m the only one that does this, but I used to visualize what life would be like for the 3 of them and picture them together at school and sports.
When we discovered we were having a little boy with Down Syndrome, our vision seemed crushed. There was no way this little man would be able to join his brothers at the same school. It was that thing when you picture your life going one way, and then all of a sudden, you’re going in a different direction. Thankfully when we got the diagnosis, I was able to join a support group my friend was running.
At that group, I met many mothers but in particular mothers of children that were school-aged and they were all doing different things with their kids and their schooling. Some were full-time at specialist schools, one was full-time at mainstream, and then the topic of dual schooling was thrown into conversation one day.
I had already started planning and booking things for my son like early intervention and now my mind was beginning to plan his early education.
Dual schooling sounded perfect. He would get the benefits of the life skills, speech, OT, physio and many other things the specialist schools offer, and he would also be able to experience the things his brothers did at Kinder and Primary School and maybe benefit from the learning there too.
All we wanted really was for him to have the same experiences as his brothers. We thought it was especially important for him to at least be given the opportunity of trying mainstream and just taking it each year at a time.
The years flew by very quickly and before I knew it, we were talking about enrolling him in 3 Year Old Kinder in a mainstream setting. He was already attending the specialist school in their early education system which was going extremely well, but we also wanted to start the mainstreaming. Here in Australia, the Government do not provide funding for mainstream 3 Year Old Kinder, so we were able to just enrol him like all the other kids and he could keep doing the specialist school early education as well. The only problem was, we needed an assistant for him, so he could experience the kinder situation properly without me being there all the time. So, the fundraising began. We sold show bags at the local Primary School market night (and we sold out). We also received a lovely lump sum from Elisabeth Murdoch who was a local of Langwarrin, and a very generous lady when it came to our community. We had our funding for the year and now we needed to source an assistant.
Luck was on our side again. Our lovely friend Helen, who was Darcy’s brother 3 Year Old Kinder teacher had retired and put her hand up to work with him during his first year of Kinder.
It was amazing and he had the best year doing both. We knew then, that this was definitely something we wanted to continue with Darcy throughout his Primary School years.
The enrolling process of 4 Year Old Kinder was a little more complex. Funding is available in this year of their education, but Darcy was already doing early education at his specialist school and already been allocated funding with them.
Working alongside the teacher at the Kinder, we decided to enrol Darcy as a mainstream student so he could still enjoy the specialist school and what they were teaching him. This way, we weren’t breaking the rules by “double dipping” with the funding. She also told me there were going to be 3 other students with special needs and assistants, as well as a volunteer they had every week, the parent helpers, her, and her assistant. She said let’s just do it this way and see how everything goes term by term. This was thinking outside the box at its best and I learned a lot from her. This way, if I needed to do parent help more often I could, but she was hoping I wouldn’t need to. She said she had been watching him through 3 Year Old Kinder and thought he would cope well. And that he did!!!
4 Year Old Kinder was an amazingly wonder
ful year. Darcy being able to do all the things his brothers did at the same Kinder. Even the end of year Christmas concert (which they did the same every year), he got to be the same character as his eldest brother when he was there. We have some beautiful memories of this year. The other reason for us wanting him to attend this kinder was that he would be progressing to the mainstream school with most of the children that went there. They had now completed 2 years of education with Darcy and knew him very well. They understood him and how they could help him learn. The kids were amazing.
At the beginning of the kinder years I wrote a letter introducing Darcy, sharing his abilities and what he was like as a child. I also included a note to tell the parents they could come to me with whatever questions they had. Nothing was too hard for them to ask. Doing this, helped for there to be no awkwardness of approaching me with a question. The parents really loved that they received this letter and were very comfortable speaking with me about Darcy.
During the Kinder years, I was in close contact with the Primary School he would be attending and kept them updated on what he was doing and started getting ready for him to attend there the year after his kinder years. His brothers were at the school, so we were well known and so was Darcy. The teachers had already begun the process of getting to know him before he even started, which I guess, was just like what normally happens when a younger sibling is getting ready for school.
When he began at the Primary School, I knew that he may only be able to attend for a few years depending on his abilities and also, as the other children got older. I had planned to have him attend his specialist school full time from about the age of 9. I’d been told by many people, that sometimes, if there is going to be a gap in the abilities of the kids, this was the age it seemed to happen. So, I set my sights on him staying there until about the Grade 2 or 3 level. When we met the assistant he was going to have at the school, we were so happy. We had met this lady through the Kinder when Darcy’s older brothers were there. She was the assistant to a young boy with cerebral palsy and had followed him to the Primary School.
WE HIT THE JACKPOT!!
We could not have asked for a better person for our boy. A strong advocate for him, someone who thought well outside the box, and a beautiful compassionate person that loved what she did. She created such an amazing environment for him and at the same time, guided the other children to be able to be his friend and include him like anyone else. (In the early years of Primary School, the kids mothered him a little because they wanted to protect him).
As the years went on, the protection was still there, but rather than mother him, they treated him like they treated all the other kids. Teaching him rules of games and including him in everything they did. It was a wonderful transition to watch. Darcy attended the mainstream school from Grade Prep all the way to graduation in Grade 6.
To say we were proud would be a massive understatement.
He did everything those other children did. He attended excursions, participated in specialty days like athletics and swimming, was part of all the incursions and dress-up days (wearing the same costumes his brothers had). And, best of all, he attended all 4 camps that were on offer to the children from Grade 3 to Grade 6. We did have a few issues with getting him on these camps, but we stood firm with advocating for him and he blew them all away. He did everything that all the other kids did…followed suit. The teachers were always so proud when they returned from camp. It was a great teaching for them to be able to see that even though he was a little different, he could accomplish the same things as his peers. I believe he learned so much from attending mainstream school even if it was only part time.
In his final year, he was included as part of the Year 6 production even though he did not attend every day to rehearse. And the graduation ceremony was one of the best days in the world. He walked across the stage exactly like his peers with lots of pride for himself. There was not a dry eye in the house. The whole school community was so proud of him. He attended all the Grade 6 graduation celebrations and I think doing all of this helped him to understand that all the kids were leaving the school. Watching him go with all the other kids to get his scrapbook signed by friends and teachers was lovely. The special luncheon they put on and the movie day were also both wonderful to watch him be a part of.
We enjoyed him attending mainstream school just as much as he did and I’m so pleased that we took the plunge to give it a go.
Mainstream high school education, I believe, would not work for Darcy but that’s not to say it wouldn’t work for others. He is now 14 and attends his specialist school full-time.
He thoroughly enjoyed his time at the kinder and the school and when we see the kids he went there with, they always make time for him and come to say hello. We’ve had a get-together with them and plan to do some more of these in the future.
Whatever it is you want for your child, I say give it a try. Push for what you believe in until you are given a chance.
You are the one who knows your child and their limitations the best, and I believe that if you think they can achieve something, they can.
All they need, just like any other child, is love, guidance and belief.
GIVE PEOPLE A CHANCE AND WATCH THEM SHINE – Julie Fisher