This is part two of an abridged version of my Christmas letter. You can find the first part here.
Starting school: Praise God from whom all blessings flow
In September, after 17 weeks of summer vacation, the kids went back to school. Can I get an Amen! And Hallelujah!? When we moved into the neighbourhood, many people suggested we look at schools outside of our catchment. One friend, even went so far as to say that Britannia Secondary is the “worst school” so you can imagine my reservations. We explored other options but, as usual, the Christian school didn’t want to use their funding to support Ella (when have we heard this before?) And the other schools in the area didn’t seem to have room.
When we went to meet the team at Britannia Elementary however, my fears were completely dispelled. I loved their vibe: they were friendly, open and didn’t really care too much about seeing Ella’s EHCP (Educational Health Care Plan – a document that outlines everything that is wrong with your kid). My gut was right and so far, this year has been amazing for both of the girls. Audrey is in a Grade one class of about 17 with a teacher and two support workers. She made friends quickly and loves recess. Ella is in a grade 6/7 split class and in the first couple weeks of school, she went on two field trips: one, to a ropes course near Squamish and then next to an indoor waterpark in Richmond. Last week, she went bowling.
It certainly helps that Britannia is an inner city school and therefore gets additional funding, but here is the reason I believe it has been such a good year so far: the system, which is based on universal design, is already built and in place, so we just needed to plug Ella in. In the past, the spectrum of ability was so narrow that I needed to teach teachers how to teach Ella and it was like pushing a boulder uphill or trying to put a square peg in a round hole. I had her IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting last week and Mr. B, her teacher, said that, in his classroom, he has K-12, meaning, he has kids with all different abilities – universal design is must.
Britannia is a unique community made up of families from what many know as Vancouver East Side on Hastings street (where substance abuse, addiction and poverty are prevalent) as well as from the gentrified Grandview-Woodland area (where houses sell for 1-2 million dollars). It creates a beautiful cross-section of the Vancouver populous with neuro-diversity, socio-economic diversity and ethnic diversity.
Ella’s teacher has also launched the Heroes hockey program in BC: a program that has had great success in Calgary and is designed for any kids who can’t access regular hockey programs because of economic or ability factors. Ella started last week and had an amazing time! Ella also has speech therapy and reading lessons at the Down Syndrome Resource Foundation and takes ballet lessons in a mainstream program. She’s a busy girl!
Jakob also quickly settled into school. After looking into a couple of other options, I asked him how he felt about Britannia. I made clear that if it wasn’t the right fit, we could keep looking. He wanted to go; we had gone to meet the vice-principal and she gave him a tour of the school. I think he particularly like the Art studio. Our fears were again unfounded and Jakob is part of the Venture program, which leads into the International Baccalaureate program – this provides enough challenge for him so that he is not completely bored out of his mind, coming from the British school system where the curriculum is rigid, the rules are strict and there is far more academic pressure. He finds it far more laid back, is excelling academically and next semester will also be a part of the school’s ice hockey program. He is still playing violin, but not taking lessons…I don’t want to talk about it.
Still reading? Find part III of this captivating year in review here.