Many people have asked how Ella is getting on with life here in England so I thought I would take a moment to share how life is the same and how it is different this side of the pond. Please understand that this is OUR story. I am sure that not all stories are like ours but it is the place that we find ourselves at this time and even as I read back over it, it sounds worse than it is, because so much of it is pointed at the future. In this moment, where we’re at, we are happy.
Ella is the same girl in England as she was in Canada – vivacious, charismatic and the class clown. She attends a mainstream Church of England school, and it would seem that everyone loves her. She does not lack for friends. She has weekly play dates with a variety of girls from her class – as her social secretary, it’s hard to keep up.
The school has been exceptional in their welcome of Ella and in their efforts to ensure she receives the best education possible. I couldn’t be happier…except for the fact that we already need to think about secondary school…and at secondary school – people are MEAN.
They would like us to have a school picked out for Ella by the summertime. The reason for this, is because once we have determined a school to be the best place for her, she is reserved a spot. Sounds nice doesn’t it? Well, it’s not as nice as you would think because there aren’t any options. We have visited a number of schools, who essentially told us that Ella would not be welcome there. The only school who is very open to having Ella is a segregated school. This is the culture in which I find myself kicking and screaming in the midst of. A three-tier system in which the “intelligent children” are ushered off to grammar school and the “challenged” children are sent to segregated schools and the rest are herded into the catchment school. This is where Jakob attends. There are 1800 students and I got into quite a heated meeting last Friday with the SENCO (person in charge of IEP/special needs type things).
I am sorry that you have been conditioned to be so negative around the educating of individuals with cognitive dis/abilities.
People just don’t seem understand nor do they want to. The moment you say “Down Syndrome” a big wall goes up. I told the SENCO the other day, “I am sorry that you have been conditioned to be so negative around the educating of individuals with cognitive dis/abilities.” She didn’t like that, but it’s true. They are led to believe that it is all about the budget and the tight curriculum. They forget that these students are not pawns, but people. I told her that the reason it was so important for me to send Ella to a mainstream school is because Ella is, above all else, socially driven. Her friends mean the world to her and are not just the other children with cognitive challenge. On the contrary! Her aid informed me that it is quite the opposite and that Ella attracts the intellectually above average girls (the ones that will pass the 11+, just example of the language that is used here. It’s all about test scores. Period). I believe that this is because they know that Ella doesn’t care how well they do on their assessments, or how they look. She will pass no judgment. Ella is grounding.
The SENCO also asked me how I thought that Ella would do in a place where kids would make fun of her. Okay, well first of all, I appreciate realism, but don’t you think it is problematic that this is the first thing you think of even with an anti-bullying policy. I told her that, sure, there is always the odd kid who is starved for attention but it doesn’t happen to Ella a lot. Perhaps, she is a social anomaly in this regard, but I believe it is because she has her friends to support her. This was certainly the case in Canada and I know it would be the case if she went to the catchment school.
There are some days, I feel like the UK hates individuals with exceptional needs. Yesterday, I tried to register for a Christian festival called New Wine and while previously, they boasted of their supports for children with additional needs, I was informed that they didn’t have anymore space for children with additional needs. Putting a cap on this demographic does not speak the love of Jesus if you ask me. So what? I come, but without my daughter? Or I come and must spend all my time with her so as to not be able to take in any of the adult sessions or her, the children’s?
Extra-curricular activities aren’t much better. Ella takes swimming lessons, which I am very grateful for and she does horse backing riding with the Down syndrome group – she LOVES riding but beyond this, we are very limited. I now have to sit with her at Girl Guides, because the leaders have determined they cannot handle her and because one of the teachers is leaving from the school, Ben has to now take her to football club. Ella is not a difficult child. She just knows when she is being excluded and will check out (go for a walk).
It’s disappointing to say the least. My heart breaks with frustration. In this county, it would seem that the education system is moving backwards, not forwards. Like in Canada, however, I could not ask for a more supportive network of parents to journey alongside and there are some great things happening in terms of changing the culture, but there is such a long long long way to go and out here, in the country, it can be very lonely.
And, as far as Ella is concerned, all is good and well. She has friends, she has ice cream and she has her family. Today, she had a daddy-daughter date to the cinema and was so excited to watch “her” dragons. I love her so much. She is fiercely independent. Of my three, I can ask her to put away her clean clothes and she will gladly do it, properly and in a timely matter. She is always grateful for her supper and eats it without interruption or complaint. She sleeps through the night (except for last night, when she woke up at 2 am, sad, because she wanted to go to a movie), and as you can see, determined – the girl knows how to get what she wants! At the beginning of the year, she couldn’t do up the buttons on her uniform, but she has long figured it out. Next, she determined to figure out how to put her hair in a pony tail and tie her shoes. She is the light of my life and I wish others would peel back the callouses and let her in, but until then, I’ll keep fighting because she’s worth it.