I remember getting a phone call in approximately May of last school year from a very anxious parent. She sounded very nervous to me yet seemed “prepared” when we were talking. From what I remember, she had told me about her daughter “Emily” who had autism and that Emily had a service dog named Levi. Emily and family would be moving to our school area and would be ready to start in September. She told me that Levi would accompany Emily to classes and helped her out to ensure that she was safe. I had never heard of a service dog for someone with autism, but when Alison explained it to me, it made sense. Alison went on and on (I know you are reading this but I love you Alison!) with seemingly what became a sales pitch of her daughter coming to our school. She was prepared when she spoke to me and had obviously thought about every possible scenario when discussing Emily.
Then she asked the question, “Would Emily be able to come to our school?”. To which I replied, “yup”. I was followed by a barrage of “really’s” and I just kept asking, “Do you live in our attendance area? If you do, then you are coming here.” You could feel Alison have this gigantic sigh of relief yet act as if she wondered if I was actually the principal. What I told Alison was ultimately this: “If we can’t do what is best for Emily, we will ensure that we find a program that can.” I promised her we would take care of her daughter.
I know that Alison was ready to do what is right for her daughter and has experienced judgment before. I am glad that she is ready to do whatever she needs to do for her child to be successful and happy. All children should be this lucky. That is not what this post is about.
When I look at Emily, I know that she is a student with autism, but more importantly, she is a gift to our school. She has a unique personality and strengths, and teaches us about acceptance of visual differences (her being Levi). Emily constantly reminds me that I need to shave and teases me, yet she decided this weekend that she would empty her piggy bank to buy me a new dog after mine passed away.
But this is not just about Emily, or even a former student Marley; this is about all students. Every child has a gift that they can share with the world, even the ones with unique needs. These kids should never be treated as “burdens” to our school system, but as blessings.
During my Identity Day presentation, I talked about how every kid is like a cracker jack box, and we must do everything to find their prize. Every student has a gift. Some need more nurturing and caring to bring it out, but they all have something. I truly believe that.
To Emily, Levi, and all of the kids at our school, please remember this. You are not only blessed because you are at our school with a wonderful community that cares about you, but we are blessed because we have you. Thanks for making everyday at our school a special one.