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?

The Road to Now – As if walking backwards

Day 9

Part 1 – Who am I?  But not totally.

Chapter 4: The Road to Now – As if walking backwards

I am an elected official. I guess that’s as good a place as any to start, or introduce you to an end to where I am at this moment.

I am a Trustee for the local public school board – the same one I was educated within, hired by my neighbors through a Municipal Election that takes place every four years. We share the ballot with Mayor hopefuls, councillor candidates, and those vying for positions as Trustees for the Catholic and French school boards.

Nobody knows who the haiti we are or what the bloody heck we do. Not even most teachers. That the curriculum does not discuss our place in politics is often brought up by my colleagues. It, as well as our part-time role, highlights our importance in the eyes of others elected in the past to represent their communities.

It’s odd to find myself here even three years into my first and likely last term as a public official.

I ran into an old vice-principal I had in high school a few months back at an open house at a Muslim mosque of all places. It was a lovely, informative, and enlightening evening. I imagined him returning home however,  having an apostrophe of a young teen who spent countless hours in his office and graduated by the seat of his pants. A young know-it-all who made weird, distracting noises, barely passed his favorite subject – art. Who had a knack of playing reunion agent between his father and the Principal who once were teacher and student. The same kid who attended summer school, night school, and who elected to take basic courses in grade 12 for fear he would not make the graduation stage with his peers should he seek more challenging subjects.  My plan worked of course but I am not sure what it really achieved looking back?

I imagined that former educator fearful of the fate of our education system with the likes of me at the lead, but I know that is not what he was actually thinking. It seemed from our great and lengthy discussion that he and other past teachers I have spoken with, have long been fearful without my assistance in further mucking it up.

Being an elected official is a bit tricky, confusing, and in a part-time role, often lonely. We don’t have assistants. We answer phone calls, respond to emails and social media messages and attend neighborhood meetings like full-time officials do. We even get lambasted through these same mediums and find ourselves from time to time the reluctant subject of newspaper articles. We also have families, regular jobs, and other everyday tasks to manage as well.  We sit on committees, attend regular board meetings, and are invited to countless events by community partners. It’s a difficult balance.

I perhaps have found all this a great deal more challenging as a single father who only sees his children half of the time and choses to be selective of what takes me away from my children. It is for this reason that there isn’t a day that passes where I don’t think of calling it quits early so I can go back to just being a father. I love being involved in my community. I really do,  but I cherish being dad to my two cuties most.

It is my desire to mostly focus on being a dad that is the real driver to this story and seeking broader support and buy-in before going any further. I try to take small steps each day towards this imagined goal but I cannot move forward with anything that will take me away from my greatest passion – those girls. For this venture to succeed, I must have the human and monetary investment that will assure all of those involved can live their lives in a ‘family first’ fashion.

I did not take on the role of Trustee from a purely ‘betterment of my community’ standpoint  I must admit. Unfortunately there was a monetary value to that decision to enter politics as well. I was divorced, struggling financially, and was looking for something to supplement my income. I was in search of a thing I could be passionate about and that might lead to an eventual career change having been in the same job for 16 years on election day, October 27th, 2014. Let’s just say that I have come to the realization in my third summer as Trustee, that there is no monetary benefit for anyone in a similar situation as I am. That’s okay though because there truly is far more to be gained from this role beyond our honorariums.

So money is a wash then. Time is being taken away from parenting. Stress levels are high. I have little time for the important things like dishes or laundry or on occasion a shower. Like today. Phew. Yesterday? Bloody hell.

Much of my vacation days are also used for events and meetings related to this ‘part-time’ job. My purpose is now constantly being self examined and my place in politics is growingly becoming moot given what I advocated for and what I have actually accomplished.

I do love my role and am extremely honored to serve in this manner. I am very lucky to have been elected to this position. There isn’t a day goes by that I am not thankful and humbled by having been entrusted to represent my communities voice for something as critically important as their child’s education.

I do have so much more to say about my position as Trustee, but I do not wish to expose the storyline beyond the title just yet. So true to me, I will engage in a bit of a ‘squirrel’ moment for a chapter or two or three, and skip around a bit to what has lead me down the path to now sitting at my diner-esque kitchen table imagining this tale.

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.