We have made a huge and exciting -- and slightly terrifying -- decision for Zachary: Next year, he will attend his local school, fully immersed and fully included in classes with his typical peers.
In the past year, Z-Man has split his days in a Maryland Learning for Life program at a school about 20 minutes away. His mornings were with a special education team and his afternoons (specials, social studies, science, recess, lunch and field trips) were with typical first-grade friends in a classroom that pushed him academically and with his attention, focus and speech.
And, because he's Zack and he's amazing, he did GREAT. He speaks these beautiful, long phrases and tells funny and witty jokes. He does math homework on a computer each night and reads beginner-level books to his family daily. He writes these crooked little letters that make us so proud.
We didn't want to just stay there. We wanted to ask questions; we wanted to push a bit further; we wanted to wonder aloud, with his team, "How far can he go?"
And, so, this former journalist went to work. I researched, asked questions, toured a building, observed classes, talked to other parents. I wanted answers to worst-case-scenario questions and begged for any reason why it wouldn't work.
And in the end, we did exactly what my heart was screaming for us to do from the first time the hypothetical situation came into our minds months ago.
We're challenging Zachary because we would challenge our daughter; because we would want any child challenged to reach further and be better and become stronger. Yet, we also realize that this may not work. It could backfire.
But that's OK. Because there's always a Plan B.
I would much rather ask myself "Did I push too hard?" rather than "Did I not push enough?"
So, in September, Zachary won't have to struggle to climb the steps of a different bus and leave his football-playing neighbors behind while he sits in place alone for up to 30 minutes one way. Instead, he'll hang out with and wait in line with and sit in seats with his sister, neighbors and familiar faces. He'll arrive to the school he's seen his sister enter many times and will be walking the halls with hundreds of typical students (and one other amazing little girl with Down syndrome!).
We anticipate adult support for most of his day, although his entire team wants to offer him as many opportunities for freedom and space and independence as possible. He'll have an electronic device to help him with his academics, particularly writing. Some of his work will be modified.
Yesterday, we signed papers that changed the course of Zachary's journey. We realize we're not just impacting the building he learns in or the friendships he makes. We know, too, that dozens of children will benefit from having a classmate like Zack. We hope that, just maybe, they will become more tolerant, kinder, open-minded individuals.
We signed papers that signify how, yet again, Zachary has blown away our expectations and, with his hard work and charm and love, has shown us that we are the only thing standing in his way.
Our fears, worries, concerns... they can never and will never dictate the possibilities and capabilities of either of our children.
We hope this is the last transition for Zachary for a long, long time. And we hope it's the beginning of a million memories and happy adventures for our family.
Yesterday, our coordinator gave me a hug, with tears in her eyes and whispered, "This is because of you. Never stop advocating."
It's because of Zachary.
He's just like any other kid -- dreams, love, needs, joys. We're just helping him find his way. And he's helping us find ours.
Today is Z-Man's last day of First Grade.
In September, an exciting new chapter begins.