- Heather Kamia
These are words that a friend of mine recently shared. And they are resonating with me so much right now.
We are currently in the process of gearing up for Cora to begin kindergarten next fall. This time that I've been both fearing and looking forward to since Cora's birth is actually going to be here very soon.
I am very lucky to live in a place with vast and incredible resources for families like ours who are embarking on this process with the goal of ensuring our children an inclusive education. From Cora's very early days, I began attending meetings and trainings about special education process in our educational system. Before I even knew what any of the acronyms meant, (IEP, IFSP, IDEA, FAPE, LRE, UDL, ECSE) I held my small nursing baby in my arms, as I listened to parents and lawyers speak in what sounded like a foreign language and discuss resources that seemed so complicated and so alien.
Our local organization, The Northwest Down Syndrome Association, holds a 9 month-long training seminar for families whose children with intellectual disabilities are entering kindergarten the following fall.. I have been waiting for our turn to participate in the Kindergarten Inclusion Cohort for the last four years and now I am finally here. I can't tell you how excited I am to take in the information that has been thoughtfully and meticulously prepared over the last six years. Or how inspiring it feels to sit in a room with other parents who have similar goals for their children as we hear the advice and words of families who have done all this before us.
I know how important it is for me to be educated in Cora's rights. How important it is for me to represent Cora in the meetings we will soon have to discuss and decide her educational future. How crucial it is for me to be her advocate and make sure that she will have the opportunities to learn and grow as part of her community along with her peers of all abilities. I know that her placement, her documented goals and legally-mandated supports are going to be critical in setting the tone for the start of her school years and in turn, the rest of her life.
And I also know that it is just the beginning. We've been practicing for years now just by being her parents. We've been practicing by being a part of our community. We've been practicing in our wonderful preschool and with her doctors and therapists. And now it's time to pull together what we've learned as we broach this next step. A step that will continue to consist of lots of practice. I know that her IEP won't be able to write her experiences, and that many of her strengths and challenges are still unknown. And I know that in this next phase there will be many rewards and many more struggles, just as there are right now.
I am trying to gear up for it as best as I can, knowing that it will be an ongoing process that will never end, as long as I am her parent and her advocate. And that I intend to be.
For more information about the goals of the Kindergarten Inclusion Cohort, and to see a wonderful documentary on the importance of inclusion, take the time to watch this video by the Northwest Down Syndrome Association.