During the GTP Fall Festival in October 2013, a former family came to celebrate and visit with us. The mother, Jennifer, shared this story with staff and board members as tears streamed down her face. We often spend time and energy focusing on making a difference in the lives of children with disabilities or disadvantages. But the impact this program has is great for every single child. Here, Jennifer shares the story of how her son is making the world a better place:
My son, Robby, is a typical child. He has grown and developed in typical fashion since the day of his birth. I am so grateful that he’s typical and that I’ll never have to feel the heartache and pain every parent of a non-typical child feels. Because he’s a typical child I’ve experienced the joys and frustrations any parent feels as they usher their child through normal bouts of teething, mild illnesses with quick recoveries, and general growing pains. I’m guilty of taking so much for granted. I know Robby will continue to grow. I know he will become stronger and face a bright future full of promise. I’m lucky to have a typical child.
Robby was fortunate enough to attend Growing Together Preschool from the time he was 10 weeks old until he graduated the program and left for Kindergarten in 2011. Our experience with the program was 100% wonderful. I can’t say enough good things about Growing Together Preschool. The years Robby spent in the program had a bigger impact than I ever dreamed; an impact I didn’t learn of until a few weeks ago.
Robby’s 2nd grade classmates include a special young man who hasn’t had the blessing of being typical. For the sake of anonymity I’ll call this boy “Max”. I learned about Max when his mother sent a letter to the parents of each child in his class. Max has a rare neurological disorder which typically leaves affected children in a wheelchair by age 10 and most do not survive into their 20s. Max’s mother described it as, “…having Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy and Cystic Fibrosis all rolled into one.” Max’s balance and coordination are affected. His speech is slurred and he’s prone to drooling. Sounds terrible, right? Now, imagine Max in the middle of a 2nd grade classroom filled with typical children. He’s different. Most children don’t understand that it is not Max’s fault he can’t speak the way they do or control his drooling. Most children are put off by this inherent difference. Most children make fun of Max because he is so unlike them. Most children shun any but the most basic contact with Max– but not Robby.
I asked Robby about Max when I first read the letter his mother sent to us. Robby said “Max is a cool guy. He’s my friend.” Did you read that? My typical child said this far-from-typical child is his friend! Robby seemed completely oblivious to Max’s differences. We continued our conversation about Max and Robby assured me he’d watch out for Max and help him at school when he had trouble. I figured the subject was pretty well closed.
A few weeks after I first learned about Max I attended a Parent-Teacher conference at Robby’s school. It was this night that I realized the true impact of Growing Together Preschool on our lives. Robby’s teacher shared with me a story about my typical child and his non-typical friend, Max. After a particularly rough patch of teasing Max was feeling more than the usual pain from his disease, he was also feeling the pain of loneliness and isolation. This kindhearted teacher pulled Max aside and asked if he would like to be moved to another desk in the room. Immediately Max asked to be seated next to Robby. The teacher asked if he was sure and Max assured her he was certain. So today Robby and Max sit side-by-side. Max feels Robby’s support and unconditional acceptance and Robby is fortunate enough to spend his days learning from an extraordinary young man.
Why is my child sitting next to Max? The answer is quite simple; because of Growing Together Preschool. Robby spent his formative years learning, playing and growing with typical and non-typical children. Robby doesn’t notice or react to “difference” the way other children his age might. It’s just as instinctive for Robby to befriend a typical child as it is to befriend a kid who acts, moves and talks in unusual ways. If my child had attended any other preschool or daycare I don’t know that I would be sharing this story with you today. I am immensely proud of my son. I am immensely proud of the administration and staff of Growing Together Preschool for setting the benchmark in creating an environment of inclusion in their program. The ripples of Growing Together Preschool’s inclusive classrooms will be felt in the lives of its graduates for years to come. I daresay none of these kids will ever be typical, and that’s worth celebrating.
Thank you, Growing Together Preschool, for giving me a son who doesn’t see his non-typical classmate as anything other than “friend.”
With sincere appreciation,