The Gift of Emily

Emily and Levi

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.

69 thoughts on “The Gift of Emily

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Gift of Emily | The Principal of Change -- Topsy.com

  2. Aviva (@grade1)

    This may be my shortest reply yet, but after a difficult day today, your post came at exactly the right time! Thank you for reminding me of something very important. Emily sounds like a wonderful student and a real gift for your school. I'm glad that I teach so many terrific, special, and unique students too!

    Aviva

    1. George Post author

      Thanks for your comment Aviva and sharing with others…I am looking forward to you sharing similar stories :)

  3. Theresa (@tamurray)

    What an awesome and uplifting story. As I adjust to the back to school routine here in NY, this reminds me to always find the positive in each child and encourage them. I have some new challenges in my classroom this year and I will think of Emily each time I start to get frustrated with my day. Thanks for sharing your Emily with me :-). I can only imagine where she will be when she is done in your building.

  4. Jo-Ann C-H

    I was truly impressed by your post and thought that Emily is also very lucky to have such an emphatetic and truly caring principal. I loved your comparison to the cracker jack box and will remember it when I have a trying day. Today I read "Thank you, Mr Falker" to my grade 8 students and I was totally in awe with their reception of the book, and the range of emotions that it evoked from even my toughest boy. ACCEPTANCE

    1. George Post author

      It is great that you are seeing the good in everyone. It is so essential and really the first step for most people is when they know someone believes in them! I appreciate your comment Jo-Ann :)

  5. Nancy Skinner

    Emily truly is a gift to our school. She has a way of wriggling into your heart and she always, always makes me smile, if not laugh.

    I would like to commend you George – you find the best in every one of your students even the ones who find themselves in trouble. I remember you mentioning a certain student last year and I had told you I had "heard" of him and knew him to see him. He frequented your office for whatever trouble he had found that day and of course that's how I knew him. You proceeded to tell me what a great child he really was – that you had spent lots of time with him and that he was a good kid. More people need to look beyond the obvious. Everybody has good in them. I left your office that day thinking how quick a person can be to judge others and how very, very wrong that is! Keep up the good work!! Not only is Emily a gift to our school but so are you!! Thank you for all you do, not only for my child, but every single child in our school.

    1. George Post author

      Nancy…I really appreciate that and I know I am blessed. You have no idea how much it impacts me to hear something so kind from a parent in our school community. I love our school (obviously) but I know that it is because of the kids and people I get to work with. You have made my night :)

  6. Mary Beth

    Thanks for this lovely post. The best part of being a teacher is finding the special gifts that every child has!

  7. Chris Wejr

    Thanks for posting this buddy. It is funny when I tell people that you are kind of a mentor to me when I have actually never met you. What you stand for is what every educator should stand for. Every child is and has a gift. Many children will have struggles and it is because of people like you that they will move beyond these struggles and see the gifts that they truly have and are. Thanks for your teaching, your mentorship, and your passion.

    @mrwejr

    1. George Post author

      You are just as much a mentor for me as I am you. I appreciate your comment and that we have become friends. Thanks Chris!

  8. Teresa Bunner

    This is a beautiful reminder to appreciate what makes each of us unique. I have been blessed many times in my career to have the opportunity to work with students with special needs. I find they always have much more to teach me than I have ever been able to teach them. But then again, I feel that way about all my babies:) It's a good reminder to stop and take an extra minute when dealing with my "at-risk" teen students each day. While many do not have outward reminders (a service dog) or a paper in their file that identifies them in any way, they carry within themselves the scars of their life experiences. And within each of them, as you have reminded us here, lies a gift. What a great job we have that we are blessed by their gifts each day!

  9. Kathleen M. Burgess

    You are a truly amazing, unique individual, and a blessing to your staff and students. I hope the school district administrators know what a gem they have in their system. Thank you for being there for your students.

    1. George Post author

      Wow Kathleen! I am lucky that I am surrounded by like minded central office and administrator staff with the same beliefs that I have. I have learned so much from them and appreciate what we all do and believe together. Thanks so much for your comment!

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  12. Mike N

    I was just going to say that you are an amazing, inspiring person, George. Kathleen – above – said it all!

  13. Cathy Campbell

    Your story of Emily reminds me of the first autistic student I ever taught, Aaron. I was so afraid because I didn't know how to communicate with him and I was worried that I couldn't offer meaningful learning opportunities for him. After my initial fear subsided and I met with his family I relaxed and learned to enjoy and appreciate his special gifts. Looking back over the two years he spent with me, I know that he taught me more than I ever taught him. He truly was a gift in my life and to the students he had been with since pre-school (they were in the same class until the end of grade 9). The students in that class were so caring, encouraging and supportive of Aaron as well as other unique students. That class of students will forever be better people because of him.

    1. George Post author

      We learn so much from every child and it is so imperative that we recognize that everyday. Thanks for your comment Cathy :)

  14. Ktenkely

    Your recognition of the gift is what makes you an incredible leader, thanks for the reminder to search out the gift in every child.

  15. Jeremy M.

    You're right, and like in our conversation today, how often to we take time to thank those students for what they do for us? How often do we reflect on what an amazing opportunity we have to work with our students, especially like Emily?

    This year I have a boy with autism. He's so sharp and keeps me on my toes. I am grateful what I have learned and yet to learn from this young man. His desire to learn and understand his world around him is an example to our entire school. He has gone from explosive, physically aggressive, outbursts to collected periods of focused work and regular contributions to class and team discussions.

    I have a lot to look forward to this year. Thanks George for reminding us of this.

    1. George Post author

      Thanks for always taking the time to check in and comment buddy. I feel better knowing that there are educators like you with the same passion out there for kids that I have. You are going to have a great year, and every year after will only get better. Keep it up buddy!

  16. Mrs. Teamann

    I wish all of my teachers could read this…what a great reminder of why we went into education…and with such a supportive admin, your building must rock!

    (@8amber8)

    1. George Post author

      We have a fantastic building and I am so glad to be a part of it! I really appreciate your comment :)

  17. Caleb's Mommy

    I wish all school districts, administrators, teachers, and staff had your vision about all of our students. Thank you for writing this post.

    You have given me some courage to carry forward toward the first "teacher team" meeting at my son's school tomorrow.

    MK

    1. George Post author

      You will be fantastic! Every parent and educator should always be focused on the same thing; what is best for each child. If we work on that together, we will do fantastic things! Thanks so much for your comment :)

  18. Jess

    I'm coming via Gayle Cole, who told me that she had something for me to read that would make me smile. She certainly did.

    As the mother of a child with autism, I have been Emily's mom. We all have. The lump in the throat, the itchy trigger finger hovering over the holstered gun, the detailed, researched argument for inclusion at the ready. It's what we do, and often times what we HAVE to do in order to find a place for our children.

    But once in a while, it's different. Once in a while, someone comes along who restores our faith in our system of public education. Someone who is secure enough in who they are and what they do to let their humanity show. Someone who understands the value of every child. Someone who knows down to his or her soul that EVERY child richly and fully deserves to learn and grow in a place where they feel supported and celebrated. Someone who truly understands that EVERY child in a school will be better for experiencing the full range of the human condition.

    You, sir are that someone. You are making the world better. Not just for the Emilies and their moms, but for EVERYONE.

    From all of us out here in the ether, THANK YOU!

    1. George Post author

      There is nothing more than I can say than thank you. Your comment made me pull over my car with emotion because of its kindness and sincerity. You are absolutely right that every child needs this, and we need to ensure as educators that we are always advocates for every child. Thanks so much for your comment :)

      1. Jess

        i hope you don't mind that i've passed this on to some friends who are likely to share it with a LOT of folks in the autism community. i thought it should be screamed from the rooftops.

      2. Jess

        george, if you are on facebook, i'd ask you to go to autism speaks' page. in case you're not able to access it, the following are the responses there to your link so far today (in addition to the 190 people that 'liked' the link) ..

        Amanda Diane Forst Loved this, great story!!

        Diana Quezada-Henriquez Terrific principal

        Sarah Alcorn every kid is like a cracker jack box, and we must do everything to find their prize…… LOVE THAT!!!!

        Stacey Conway GREAT STORY!!!

        Libby Shue Flora If only others could adopt the attitude and understanding that this Principal is fostering in his school into every setting.

        Lisa Bray I wish all principal were like the man in this story!

        Teresa Blackwell AMEN!!! I have a daughter with Autism I know this to be true all to well. God Bless him!!

        Betty Ann Blevins I wish all teachers/ principles and school systems were like this one. I am actually blessed to have for my son a very good group of educators From the Principle to the Para Educators that work with my son! I have however in the past not been as blessed as I am currently with the educators at a school he was attending.

        Earica Owens My son has autism and I must say it's nice when a teacher takes the time to go above and beyond.

        Milagros Castro Great Story!

        Joan Smith I have a granddaughter with Autism and she is SO VERY SPECIAL in so many ways.

        Charles Freeman That is exactly how all of the schools higher ups should act. Good for [him] :)

        Grace Wanja Manyara Great article. I have a son with autism and he is a gift and a blessing to the family.

        Linda Trout What an awesome article!

        Susan Graves Vousden Finally..an uplifting positive story for the ASD community. We were so lucky to find a wonderful school, teacher, and principal for our Samuel. Unfortunately I think they're the exception to the rule, not the norm. But I believe, with more education of our educators there will be more of these wonderful stories out there to give us hope.

        Amanda Marshall These stories make cry, but im even more proud to be a mom of special needs children. 2 autistic and 1 dwn syndrome plus typical delevoping energetic 1 yr old. I love them all

        Diane Fletcher Tufts Life would be better for all of us if everyone could see things this way, and it makes me so happy to hear when they do. We've been blessed over the years by several principals, teachers,and paraprofessionals who have truly made all the difference in the world for our child. Determination to find the positives in a situation is what makes a lot of the positives possible and gives us something to build upon.

        Lori Turner Wish every principal was like George

        Jennifer Weglewski Mendez I love it! I wish this view was shared by more people in our world. People with disabilities have SO MUCH TO OFFER! Parents of children with special needs are blessed with priceless treasures! They are our "diamonds in the rough". I too am PROUD of my special needs children!

        Dawn Vescovi my nephew has autism and a service dog named Max. Our family is so blessed to have both of them in our family.

        Diana Quezada-Henriquez I'm glad to here great stories, just in the news last night, a family had to take the school to court to allow the service dog to go to school with the autisitic child. The family won!

        Debbie Potocki Provost I read this over coffee this morning. Beautiful.

        Kiane Henderson i always love these links !! they are coming from someones heart!! that means alot to people who have an autistic child in their family!!

        Rachel Briseño this was a hard one to get through. we should all be so lucky to have an experience with any school system that is willing to do as much as a parent would to ensure the success of a child with disability. (any child for that matter) thank you so much, George!

        Timothy Butler Fight the Good Fight !!!

        Jean Williamson That was beautiful and thank you so much for sharing that perspective….

        Karla Anderson That was very heart felt and touching. Alot of schools woulldn't have allowed the dog..The regulations come first. Then the child

        Lisa St Pierre so true and no one realizes until they experience time with them

        AND ..

        the following are comments from my page on facebook (diary of a mom) …

        Rachel Bostetter Thuemling Wow. What an amazing post. My daughter will be receiving her service dog in November and I can only hope that her new school in the fall welcomes the two of them like this principal did. Beautiful.

        Gail Marie I want to go to his school! I just had to share this on my page, Jess. Thanks.

        Karen Castelli Polati So great! We have a service dog at our children's school for a visually impaired child and it is such a treat for all of the children to know him.

        Mercedes Bogarin Fretes thanks for sharing!!!!

        Barbara Kneher Great link, great principal.

        Carrie Land That was incredible to read. He is whom everyone should be. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  19. pwd

    Thank you for that wonderful uplifting post. What a positive way of thinking which will always be shown within your students there. This is what educators are all about. Again thank you for sharing.

  20. Stephanie H

    This is a great story an I hope that my son Mitchells school is this great towards his special needs. I live in a small town an people tend to look down on special needs kids here like the family has done something wrong so it is kinda hard but we have a new special needs school here so I am looking forward to the great teachers an principal. Thank You for the story.

  21. Stephanie

    This post made me cry. I am soo glad that there are wonderful people like you leading our children!! My son is autistic. He was not cared for at his public school. He even came home witha concussion and not even seen the nurse. ( An the teacher did know he hit his head!) She was simply tried of dealing with him. :( It still takes my breath to think about it. He is now homeschooled. What a lucky baby emily was to have you!! I love that you can see all childrens greatness! God Bless you and all you put your hand to!

  22. Rose

    Dear Sir, Thank you for this story, our son has Autism & is in 4k & ECH. We put him on the regular bus route for the first time this yr (I was worried sick) he loved it on the 2 day of school he even found his own way to class! We are thinking of getting him a dog for Christmas that is trained for him, so thanks on many levels for this story. ANd you go EMILY, & MOM!

  23. Samantha

    I am doing my senior project on Teaching and Learning Styles of autism and I was wondering if you wouldn't mind if I interviewed you. This post made me smile and it touched my heart when reading it in Spanish class(this was more interesting and more important LOL) I am trying to spread awareness in my High School. My email is dancinsammibaby@yahoo.com and I would appreciate an email from you or anyone who commented on this post. Thanks

  24. Amanda Christine Fal

    I'm so happy to read a story as this one especially since mt autistic son does not get this sort off support from his school

  25. David

    What an awesome display of acceptance. As the father of an autistic child, I understand how Allison feels about wanting your child in a loving, caring environment. We are blessed to have her in such a school. Where her teachers treat her as an equal and set high expectations for her. Temple Grandin's mother said it best "She is different not less". Thank You for being a positive influence and so accepting, accommodating, and an all around blessing for this beautiful little girl and her family. You truly are an inspiration.

  26. Lydia Bauer

    This story touched me as a parent of an Autistic son. When my son started K-5 I knew he would have some challenges being in a school setting so I set up a meeting with the school principle . This school already knew me from my daughter attending years past .

    I went into the meeting with my papers in hand from doctors,therapist and personal questions of my own. I was for sure that I would have to do a lot of talking but I didn't . I was assured that my sons best interest would be top priority and his safety. My son has sensory issues and OCD and has melt down and I always know that when I leave my son at school that he is in good hands and safe. Everyone that knows me will tell anyone that am a very out spoken person and take no excuses when it comes to my children and just because one of them has a disability I will not let him be treated different or shorted in life or education so when I read this story it made me feel good to know that there are other schools that don't try and change special needs children but love and respect them for who they are.

  27. Darryl

    I to have an autistic daughter that is in a regular school. I'm goig to meet her grade 2 teacher tonight at a school bbq.

  28. Darryl

    <blockquote cite="#comment-content-1992">

    Darryl :I too have an autistic daughter that is in a regular school. I’m going to meet her grade 2 teacher tonight at a school bbq.

  29. Jessy

    This story made me smile, my 3 year old has Autism and I have been thinking about a service dog for him. Well actually training our doberman Hunter to do it, she is gentle and loves children. This has encouraged me to do that now that I know somewhere there are people that are as accepting as you! I know you made a big difference in their lives :) Thank you for being a wonderful caring person.

  30. cathy

    It' nice to hear there are Schools and Educators that really do care and have an understanding of Autism. My Son has Aspergers because he meets the State grade requirement fot the Schools report card and is high functioning. We have to fight with the School every year just for the few minor things he needs adjusted. I don't wont my Son to be passed along I wont him to reach his full potential. I wish we were in your School District.

  31. Frieda Davison

    George,

    With all the wrong that goes on in the world at any given time, I want to applaud you for reminding me that there are people like you out there with the insight, kindness and perspective who make such a keen difference in the world. I, too, just started my 8 year old autistic son in a new school. We moved our family of 6 to a different district in order for him to attend this school with the hopes and prayers that this program would suit his needs better. So far I think it was a great move, because the teachers and principal have shown the same sort of leadership I see in you. I now feel like they are up to the challenge of finding the best in Leo and that I don't have to apologize for his differences or be responsible for any slight (or maybe not so slight :) ) misbehaviors. His new teacher told me to let us handle that and that home should be his 'safe place'. What an 'aha moment'! I want to read more about your 'crackerjacks' idea.

    Wish we had more like you in the states!

    Frieda

  32. Natasha

    You are a gift to the education world! I so enjoyed reading your post. I am a mom of a five year old little boy with aspergers and we are a military family and will be moving to a new state and new school where my son will be in kindergarten. I too have started making that phone call to the school my son will be assigned to and they too have been wonderful to me and reading your post just gave me even more good feelings that things will fall into place well when we get to our new school district. You are an angel sent and you give hope to us parents that there is good out there. THANK YOU many times over!:-)

  33. Cheryl Goldman-Crist

    I have a son 17, now in his Junior year of school. We have experienced open and insightful educators, as well, as the polar opposite.

    Glad there are HAPPY situations happening, it gives me hope.

    I think everyone "thinks" they have the best interest of the student in mind. However, often the interpretation of "best interests" can cause great strife.

    My idea of best interest involved allowing my child to learn skills of independence and the schools definition was to keep him "safe". We went rounds over this distinction.

  34. Katie (Uconn)

    You are an inspiration for anyone who wants to become a special education teacher, like myself. I hope that I can make a difference in the school systems in my town as much as you have made your school a better place for children with special needs. Thank you for providing an envorionment that accepts every child. This story has affected me greatly and I thank you.

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  36. Kit Michel

    What a wonderful story and your words mean so much to many of us, god bless you and all the students that are so lucky to be in your school(and Levi)

  37. Darless

    This is a very inspirational story, one that is encouraging, and promotes hope. Our school systems seem to have a less understanding of the exceptionally challenged child. You truly a gift from God, thank you for looking out for the children, our future.

  38. Gilda horgan

    My son's school is supportive in this way. He has had so much success due to the forward thinking and open mindedness of his teachers and administrators, that I was inspired to write a children's book about his success. Tyler's Magic Word Box is dedicated it to the teachers and specialists who helped my son find his words. It is my hope to raise money for more public school programs tailored for children on the spectrum.

    http://web.mac.com/g.horgan.portfolio/iWeb/Site/M

  39. Jerusia Chasse

    Hello George,

    What a great inspiring story ! So refreshing to hear from an adminsitrators perspective. Sometimes I think we get caught up in the everyday and forget about how important our work is. Thanks!

    ~Jerusia

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  41. Gayle

    George, I knew when I sent sweet Jess to read this post on your blog that it would make her day, and that she would spread the word far and wide.

    I hope you get thanks for what you wrote for weeks and months to come, because that will mean that parents are continuing to discover this happy story. There are too many sad things in the news each day about schools, about kids, about autism, about exclusion. Your post, your work, and your friend Emily, are all antidotes to that.

    I hope Emily and Levi have a GREAT Identity Day at your school.

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