Little bitty, ’bout Jack & Cheyenne

Day 174

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Jack and Cheyenne (but not really)

Part 2 – True Adventures Yet To Be Lived

Chapter 19: Little bitty, ’bout Jack & Cheyenne

Jack and Cheyenne met 6 months into Jack’s first term as an elected official, in the middle of his last ditch effort to reverse the decisions to close IMH.

Jack shared equal access to his two girls. He had been separated for 3 years when he and Cheyenne met. That time together had enabled him and his daughters to create a very strong bond between them. Jack found the kid inside. He found patience, determination, and will. Most of all, he found the dad he longed to be and the father he always knew was within him.

Jack had dated a little bit over those years but for the most part it was just the three of them until that Spring of ‘15.

Cheyenne was a single mom who had full custody of her daughter. They had been on their own since her child was 2. Cheyenne was a very successful local manager of a not-for profit and involved in fundraising events when Jack stumbled across her social media profile.

The first connections were really no more than two people building their social  networks, and engaging with like-minded individuals. A month after that first connection however, after many messages back and forth, the two met for the first time over dinner.

They talked for hours about their lives, their work, passions, family, and of course, mostly their children. Jack’s girls, were 8 and 6, and Cheyenne’s daughter was 7.

From that first night, the two were inseparable.

When their kids finally met, at an Annie sing along at a local community theatre, it was also love at first site for the three clowns. They ran around the theater, up onto the stage, through the aisles, and joked around and laughed well into the night in the streets outside the show.

The girls had their troubles over the years as siblings do, but it was always evident when push came to shove (literally), that the occasional cat fight was not something they ever wanted to get in the way of them all being family.

Cheyenne was Jack’s cheerleader – all of their biggest boosters. She was constantly lifting all the girls up, complimenting them and when it came to Jack and his dreams and goals, she was quick to share them with anyone and everyone with great pride and genuine belief.

When Cheyenne believed in something, she would stop at nothing to ensure it got the credit, time, and exposure it deserved. The year before Jack and Chy (shy) met, he had started a little community event for his children after he realized he wasn’t going to be able to spend Halloween with them for the first time. He called it an alternate Halloween that happened a week before the actual holiday, which consisted of a gathering in the park with games earlier in the evening, followed by actual trick-or-treating through the neighborhood at participating homes. That first year seen about 20 kids and a dozen or so participating homes but by the fourth year, the event had ballooned to 250 kids, 40 participating homes, insurance, permits, bouncy castles and so much more.

It was all her. A man is only as good as those he surrounds himself with and Cheyenne was a big influence in all of their belief in themselves. She made Jack stronger. Made him feel like he could conquer anything and everything – including the world which is what this project often felt like. It was a substantial endeavor but somehow she made it feel small – manageable.

From the moment Jack first mentioned the idea for the school and its related entities, Cheyenne was iN. She had questions. She was also Jack’s best critic, but not out of disbelief. On the contrary, she pushed him hard which in turn, helped him strengthen, expand on, and better clarify his vision.

To Jack, Cheyenne was this sweet, giving, forgiving, connector. She was a natural networker in all aspects of her life. Before the idea of the school had even been floated, Cheyenne was making many valuable and sincere community connections. She literally connected people in her full time role, and all those that surrounded Chy benefited holistically from her natural instinct to want to help and the hard work she tirelessly put in behind the scenes. Cheyenne made sure that those she felt needed to get together to achieve like-minded goals, from finding a job/an employee to making a dream come true, met.

One day early on in the project, Jack thought to himself, ‘would I be here today attempting to achieve such a lofty endeavor, had Cheyenne not come into our lives?’. The answer was a resounding no. Chy added so much to their lives. She brought this peace. An understanding and patience with him, his girls, and everything life threw at them – which was a lot. Somehow after all these years together, she was still there by all of their sides. Sometimes she looked a little beaten down, but she still found a way to look at Jack with an adoring love. She would cock her head slightly, do this thing with her lips, and stare so innocently and child like his way.

There were many days where Jack wondered why Chy had stuck around as long as she had. They had been through so much in a relatively short time, but he knew by now that her love was unwavering. He trusted her love for all of them and her pure, and dedicated commitment to being there through everything and anything. There was no doubt in his mind that this woman’s heart was one he could always count on.

Divorce had taught Jack that he didn’t need anyone. It allowed him to see what a great father he was, and that he could do anything he set his mind to surrounded by the right people. Now that he had Cheyenne by his side, he also knew that even though he could survive on his own, he no longer wanted to. Cheyenne was the final romantic path for Jack. It took 40 plus years, but now looking back through everything life had thrown in his way, Chy was worth every obstacle. Every heartache. Every tear.

Jack and Cheyenne. Two Canadian kids doin’ the best they can.

The Beginning

Day 125

Part 2 – True Adventures Yet To Be Lived

Chapter 17: The Beginning

The original disheartened admission of the need for a school on the fringes of public ed, dedicated to children and youth with varying needs, was certainly not Jack’s brainchild.

Jack spent three years advocating for the Ministry and local Boards to drive both feet into the air brakes of their misguided inclusion train, and reverse decisions to close facilities offering these inspiring, alternative settings. He ran in the Municipal election on mostly that premise, won, and the first task he tackled was just that.

He  desperately attempted to help his new colleagues see their need to reconsider. Countless emails were sent over many weeks. Images were attached, of the inclusion everyone understood – a Down syndrome cheerleader, in contrast with a snapshot of the last graduating class of of the student body he was advocating for. The children looked no different than any other except each child had a learning disability. Lastly, Jack cited research based on the other side of the discussion, and advice from regarded professionals in the field of special education warning against forced inclusion.

This was the story that could not have been shared with Trustees the previous term, for if they had known of works similar to James Kauffman M., ED. and Daniel Hallahan, P., ED., had they followed stories from neighboring boards and how when faced with a similar dilemma, they proudly cited the importances of these choices and kept one school open. Had decision-makers been encouraged to look at larger metropolises like Harbour City, with 40 some odd alternative schools, their decision to close both schools serving these students would have very likely been different.

Jack realized very early on in this new role, just how hard reversing a political decision was.

Although Jack failed to change the previous Board’s vote, that school was something he often referenced in public and private discussions. Sometimes a bit off topic, sometimes while choking up,  holding back a tear, and from time to time, sometimes with a little anger and frustration in his voice.  He did so respectively, but although he was more or less encouraged to realize this type of facility would not return to their network of schools, Jack wasn’t someone who gave up on the issues he felt very strongly about.

Even though Jack was new to education and his political role, the longer he served and the more he learned about the inner workings of publicly funded education, the more he remembered those pre-election mentions of education on the edge. Not even two years in, Jack found himself becoming increasinging aware of the direction this dream of an alternative school needed to move in.

~

This entire story began with a newspaper article. A few of them actually.  Jack had lived in Waterfall City his entire life, had been educated under this same Board, but yet new nothing about  Ivor ‘The Driver’ Memorial High School (IMH). Suddenly, this school was frequently being discussed in local mainstream and indi media circles.

IMH as it turned out, had been among many in Waterfall City that once focused on vocational programming. Jack would even later learn that his uncle Melvin, who himself had a learning disability of type unknown to the family, had attended IMH. Other uncles had also graduated from vocational schools and gone on to do very well for themselves in fact.

In recent years however, leading up to its closing, IMH, through the leadership of its principle and dedicated staff, had evolved into a school where primarily students with various challenges attended.

Jack had this growing urge to drop into IMH to see for himself, what it was all about. That wasn’t an easy task for a quiet, introverted artist but one day early fall, he did just that. He sent the Principal a message, citing recent articles read and conversations he had had with staff he knew from the school, and within a week, through the Principles invitation, found himself at their parent council meeting.

The dynamics were polar opposite to parent council meetings Jack had attended at his girls schools. From advocating for an audio system or grade 8 trips, to pure survival, the contrast between a standard community school, and IMH, was daunting.

You see, IMH had been voted to close, along with its sister school across the city for students with more mild intellectual needs. IMH itself, was nothing to look at. Obviously in desperate need of repair but that wasn’t of concern to staff, students, or families. They loved this school and everything it represented.

This was the first parent council formed at Ivor Memorial in some 10 years, and they were here to fight alongside the students who had equally been inspired by the the announcement of their schools closure, to take to protesting on school and City Hall grounds.

For years these students and their families had fumbled through mainstream education, until finally finding their way to IMH – sometimes by chance, sometimes through hoops. Obviously the decision to close had been on executive minds for sometime, as they tried to limit it’s enrollment numbers.

That first October meeting, Jack found himself leaving as a community representative on Parent Council.  He had felt an instant connection with this group, but couldn’t put a finger on why it had immediately been so strong. When he had his first tour of the facility during school hours a couple of weeks later, the kindred relationships between staff, students, and the families all made it very clear why Jack had felt an instant draw to IMH before he had even stepped in through those front doors.

It was unique in so many ways, from it’s community mentorship program, breakfast clubs sponsored by the local professional hockey team, music playing in the hallways over the PA system between classes, signs everywhere helping the students navigate the building, dogs wondering the halls with their own staff ID, a greenhouse, smaller staff to student ratios, and some 200 partnerships throughout the City.

The tour guide, an extremely passionate IMH educator, often found herself choking up discussing the love for her school and her students. With each staff member we met, the adoration and advocacy of the need for this special space, dug deeper into Jack’s psyche. Who was Jack kidding. They had him at dogs, reminding him of an early 20’s employer where the owner’s pooches roamed the office freely, stopping by occasionally for a pet.

What really caught Jack’s attention most during his tour of IMH, was the flow of students who came into Principal Pat Seaton’s office, just to say hi. He was well regarded, and the mutual respect he had for his students was obvious. Where other kids, including Jack as a teen, avoided the office, this was a safe place throughout the day for many. One student even had explicit language on his hat (his hat), but it wasn’t something of focus. Neither was language in general either it seemed. Discouraged, but not a game changer among the broader picture.

As Jack was leaving, a couple of former students had popped in for a visit. They missed their school. They missed their principal. Jack stepped back and watched this interaction for a bit, before tapping Pat on the shoulder to say his goodbyes.

“We’ll be in touch, Pat.”

‘Thanks for coming, Jack. We’ll see you at next parent council.”

Jack hadn’t felt this included – this at home, for a long time. He was now a member of this school and he was honored.

He was never the same after that day. He later visited the school to sit in on classes from english and construction, to their composite class. He watched how staff patiently and with great compassion, took turns dealing with escalating student behavior like it was just a normal and very human part of their day. How didn’t office educator’s get this?

In the new year, now an official Trustee candidate, Jack attended the school for a discussion between the Board’s Director, standing Trustee, staff, students, families, and community members, moderated and hosted by a local neighborhood action group. So many in the community had joined the cause to save this school and this program, and this was the Boards attempt to explain how these students and future generations, would be okay under their new full inclusion model.

In Jack’s hand, as he arrived and took a seat in the front row of the IMH gymnasium, was a copy of a book called the Illusion of Full Inclusion (Kauffman/Hallahan). Ironically, it had just arrived that day so Jack brought it and put it on the chair next to him.

Although the moderator kept the meeting civil, neither speaker was able to breath comfort into the hearts and minds of anyone in the room, including IMH Student Council President Will (Megaphone) Martin. With megaphone in hand, Will and his fellow students, who had been quiet throughout, made sure it was known at one point that they would never give up on their fight to save the school that had changed their lives.

A petition of over 1000 signatures asking to preserve the school was presented at the meeting, which included advice from many educators and those who worked with these students in communities across Canada. It meant nothing.

The remaining months were spent reading Kauffman and Hallahan, knocking on doors in an effort to represent IMH in the political arena, and attending rallies.  Will Martin was inspiring people all across the city with his valiant and persistent efforts to make sure everyone and anyone knew about their cause, and why it was important to overturn a decision to close a school nobody but it’s staff and students, truly understood.

In late spring, the school held its annual talent show. It was the perfect example of why having an entire school for these students, rather than a handful of small alternative programs spread throughout the city, was an important option to have. These students would have never taken part in anything like this at their home schools. Jack had a tear in his eyes throughout most of the remarkable performances. These students were amazing. Inspiring. Resilient. They were attending dances, had friends (including girlfriends or boyfriends), for the first time. They were truly included. It was at this moment, where Jack fully understood just how personal inclusion was.

Jack attended a conference many years later where a speaker stated, in talking about these very options in education, that “When everyone is different, nobody is different.” This school exemplified this.

June seen the last ever graduating class of IMH walk across the stage. It was a packed auditorium, and an extremely emotional event. The students all looked sharp. Many were the first to graduate high school in their families, and some were the first to enter into post secondary studies.  These students stayed in school and didn’t just get by, they thrived and enjoyed every last minute of the latter part of their educational journeys. School had not been a great experience until IMH. That alone was worth its weight in ministry funding.

Now, it was all over. The halls silent. The Canadian flag standing guard over the echoes of 50 years of IMH grads, including Jacks’ late uncle Mel. The building, soon to be ashes alongside the program that had so majestically and holistically grown out of nothing – no thanks to any executive design.

The students watched in anguish, as the school was brought to rubble later that same year. It’s a hard enough thing for anyone to watch, nevermind students with special needs wondering why someone would close the first school they had truly found a home within.

What did this say about their value and place in society?

Education – Plain and Simple

Day 68

Part 1 – Who am I?  But not totally.

Chapter 15: Education – Plain and Simple

Everyone has a right to a free public education in North America, but education should also be free from politics. Free from religion. Free from discrimination, judgement and bullying.  We should learn and talk about it all but neither should be allowed to influence educational experiences or outcomes.

Our children deserve to come out of the other end of their early learning journeys with the same confidence, same belief in oneself and equally knowing their value in our society. The same humility, compassion, respect for others, and global understanding of our wonderfully diverse world. That no one is better or smarter or more intrinsic than anyone else. Not a King or Queen, Prince of Princess. Not a Prime Minister. Not a President. Not a human over an animal or our Mother Earth. That we are all equally important pieces of our community puzzles. We cannot take away a bee, a wolf, a river, a tree, you or me without taking something from the spirit and harmony of the grander painting.

Students should take that leap into adulthood with these basic skills and understandings. We can accomplish anything when we believe in ourselves, and only a fraction of our full potentials when we are left questioning all the numbers and letters 14 years of report cards have said about us.

Most of all, our children must have an educational experience as diverse as their many different learning profiles. Inclusion must be individual to what feels right for them. Not what politicians and office educators believe is best for our children.

Inclusion is personal. It’s time for our learning institutions to be holistically reflective of this.

Education is in need of the greatest innovation in how it’s delivered from structure, delivery and budget, to programming and environment. INSE seeks to be at the forefront of this innovation.

A Piece of Paper

Day 3

Part 1 – Who am I?  But not totally.

Chapter 7: A Piece of Paper

I won’t bash my current job or employer because my unhappiness, I am quite certain, is all about me and that grass is greener vision. Not that any other venture wouldn’t have it’s boring, unsatisfying moments but I want to know that feeling of taking a leap of faith. Trying something new. Being bold enough to follow one’s aspirations. Believing in what you have to offer the world. If not for me, then for wanting to teach my children through leading by example. How can I tell them to explore, not be afraid, believe in themselves, that they can do anything, if I too don’t listen to my own voice?

20 years is a long time. My father worked 37 years at the same job. My grandfather 30. I will do anything for my family but there is cake and I’d like at least a nibble.

I do not wish to bore you all that much (if at all ideally), with details of my current employment but I will (tell you not bore you I hope), share enough to perhaps sell myself if you will because my resume is mostly about life and the experiences that fill the page with invisible ink rather than the limited black text.

Squirrel.

I’ll step back for one second and talk about something I did when I was drinking in Hollywood at 26. Don’t worry. It’s PG.

The dream of working for Disney or any other studio in California hadn’t gone away with ‘quitting’ animation school. I brought some of my work with me on that trip with the hopes of passing it around to studios in search of anything. Even cleaning floors to start.

Not to put myself down but I knew then as I do now, that my work didn’t come close to what I seen on the walls each day in college. There are some crazy talented artists in this world and I thoroughly enjoyed starting at it on display in the halls at school. It was an inspiring place to be.

On my return to Canada, I did hear back from one studio to whom I submitted my work to. They recommended I look to posting my art online to sell myself. It stuck with me that they took the time to call and offer advice so I did just that. I bought the URL Sellyourself.ca – Sell something you believe in, and started posting my work and even getting into a little (Macromedia) Flash animation.

Sellyourself was a part of me for quite a long time although professionally it never led to anything. Personally however, simply owning the URL and what I learned through building websites, teaching myself new tools, and having an incentive to draw more and post it, was an invaluable experience.

I did go back to college part time and obtained all credits over a couple of years, required for a certificate in animation portfolio development. It once again led to nothing but I was glad I accomplished that. Not to mention that I also met many more talented artists along the way and even landed a short gig helping out with an animated short via that adventure.

Believe in yourself. Sell yourself. It sticks. Well it didn’t but the dream did. I was basically just selling my own disbelief in me really. It’s still something I work on every day. Believing that is not urinating on my ego.

No papers.

So anyway here I am trying to sell myself to myself through a creative medium that as an adult, has superseded my early artistic aspirations.

I wrote my first story in middle school. Up until then never, outside of playing hockey, had I been so passionate about something that I spent most spare moments doing it. It was 100 double-sided pieces of foolscap paper in the end, all hand written and still sitting in a bin in my basement to this day. It was almost 20 years before I would really write again outside of some occasional poetry and diary entries. This was the time my first story, albeit a commentary piece in our local newspaper, seen print. What a rush.

I have been very lucky in my full-time career. The opportunities, the friendships, the experiences, what I have learned and the confidence I have gained from this journey have been worth all 5,000 plus days of employment. The problem is, I have wanted a change for so long but all these barriers above have stood in my way. Sorry they didn’t. I did.

Papers.

This 19 year journey is a big driver for my imagined endeavor though. I was taught by the owner of my first full-time job that rather than complain about something, come into his office with a solution. I did just that and many of those thoughts were put into action. It’s a valuable lesson of which has stayed with me and will live on through this project. I learned more from that 6 year job than I ever learned in school. Not really but hey, ‘No Surrender.’

I do have at least one project left in me which I am extremely excited for and honored to be a lead on. The company is starting to seriously look beyond pieces of paper which speaks to our voices being heard through our yearly internal surveys. They are a really good employer.

Should this project move forward, it will be a big and welcomed change for my long-time colleagues. I know should I – when I, move on, that there will be great satisfaction in knowing that things in the only department I have worked in will be so much better. That their tools will be with the times and their skills will be transferable should they hopefully spread their wings and explore the industry. I believe in the end, this change will help them feel like they are remaining current and that they are valuable assets in the job force. They are already in so many ways but I know I haven’t felt confident enough to move around in this industry.

I care for so many of the people I have and do work for. They have been such a big part of my life. I work with a great deal of talented and passionate people and I will always remember these times very fondly. What am I saying there is likely two years to this project. I also know this will all connect somehow in the end so I won’t get too emotional.  

Insert violins.

What can I say I am a bit of a sap. Okay a lot of one. All of one. All in but my shoelaces.

Night then.

Suffocating Creativity

Day 2

Part 1 – Who am I?  But not totally.

Chapter 3:  Suffocating Creativity

It’s exciting being excited about the excitement that writing a story more than 500 words contributes to my spirit. Where the tale will go? How I will get to the conclusion? What adventures will the journey entail and what will I learn about life and myself along the way?

It’s mystical. Magical. It’s so much a part of who I am. That someone I denied to exist for far, far too long and who I continue to ignore at times throughout my ever shortening time on this earth.

I miss creative writing and the peers I used to write with. I do write stories related to my political role from time to time in local community papers. I enjoy sharing space with so many other passionate neighbors throughout the area I live in. So many are selling this great neighborhood on social media and in passing which is an exciting thing to be a part of. Our City is going through a great renaissance so playing any role in that change is empowering.

For someone like me who has lived in this place all of my life, it’s like people are now saying they believe in us too because nobody held any regard for our City up until now. The locals have always seen the beauty in this little big town but when one goes through life hearing others talk smack about your hometown, it kind of defines you as a person as well. We are our towns. They become us. It’s nice that others see our beauty now even if they are a bit tardy.

I’ve been a creative soul as long as I can recall to be honest with myself, so all this seriousness and the drama that often comes with politics and corporate life does eat away at you. I love it all too but there is so much that I wish to see changed.

Having that urge to tell a tale is invigorating and I miss it. I have felt this craving for some time now but I also do enjoy being an advocate. Writing and speaking up in those regards I have found to be more fulfilling in a different way.

I believe a big reason why I have been feeling so lost and unsatisfied with both my jobs as of late is the lack of creativity in my life. Expression. Exploration. Freedom.  Oh how I enjoy drawing with my kids or telling the tales of our lives together as if I were of English decent – well I am two parts English or three if you include my step grandmother.  Those moments are few and far between however.

For one, I am often too exhausted. More so than a man of 44 should be really. I read a story by author Steve Goodier once that talked about skidding in at the end of your life sideways rather than packed up perfect and seemingly unscathed in a perfect, tidy little white box. For me, each day seems like a desperate slide into home plate leaving scars and bruises that take days to recover from. So with a goal of one day skidding in sideways, I feel I must slow down a tad and take my own life by the horns for fear I might fall in backwards unexpectedly before my time.

I love being busy and wanted and needed and important and that my days are full, but I have long tired of sweating the small stuff. I want a different life for me but I also want a different life for everyone. Most importantly, I want a more meaningful future for my girls and their children should they wish to venture into parenting themselves one day – hopefully before I do any final skidding or stumbling myself.

What I should be doing at this stage of my thought process is writing a business plan and in fact I have written one before so I know I can do that. Then there is that desire for creativity in my life. So, I thought why not marry the two needs in an effort to move this rather time-sensitive initiative forward sans some boringly formatted bank proposal, by appealing to the calling inside my spirit that longs to be more free in it’s wonderings.

Why not write this vision as a storyteller? Picturing how it might all unfold to see if I have still sold myself on this concept never mind the many people, the time, and the money it will take to launch such a lofty endeavor?

I will either succeed or fail at gaining your belief, and or your monetary or physical support. That is not what is important. What matters is the journey and what it teaches us about ourselves and the fascinating people we meet along the way.

I often wish I could be more straightforward in my approaches, but I have long since become happy with who I am and how my brain and heart sees the world and my place among those thoughts.

Let us imagine together. Let’s learn. Let’s laugh a lot. Yes even at me. Should all of this lead us forward in the spirit of this dream, all the better. If not, hopefully you at least don’t feel this journey was for not and that you too learned something about others, a missing need, and most of all, yourself.

Let’s first sleep though and draw the curtains on the first day of this written journey shall we. Falling asleep at my desk is one of those odd places I have nodded off before so I do not wish to suffer whiplash before bed this evening. The used mattress I purchased off off a buy and sell website from a chiropractor some six years ago is pain enough each morning never mind other self-prescribed tortures.

Good dreams then.