It’s been over three weeks since Lola started school and based on the lack of posts on this blog — well let that be an indication as to how busy our family is these days. We purposefully chose not to talk about school at length over the summer as Lola doesn’t quite grasp the concept of taking a summer break. But a couple of weeks before school was scheduled to begin we started to repeat trigger words like bus, school, Mrs. Tubbs, Melissa and backpack. We wanted to help refresh Lola’s memory of school and you could see the wheels turning in her head as we began to use the words more frequently.
Since Lola goes to the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), Registration and Picture Day both take place on a Sunday. This is because ISBVI is also a residential school for children with vision loss who live in Indiana, but not close enough to be transported on a daily basis. The Sunday registration is a chance for families traveling from afar to get their kids settled into the dorms, connect with the teachers and say their goodbyes to their children. We are lucky as the school is only a 20 minute drive from our home. We always enjoy Registration Day because we are able to reconnect with the teachers, therapists and staff. Many of them followed Lola’s ongoing progress over the summer so it was especially fun to hear our bright little girl receive nothing but praise from those she adores the most.
ISBVI is tucked away off of two main streets in Indianapolis. It is hidden and mysterious. You can see a large clock tower if you look closely, but most people would never guess what lies behind the rows of trees. When I see ISBVI, I think of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the Harry Potter tales. It feels magical. The school was established in 1847 and every inch of the campus encompasses history. I can remember rollerblading by it for years prior to giving birth to Lola. I felt immensely drawn to the school and was so curious about it. Perhaps it was a gravitational pull preparing me for what was to come. Little did I know, it would be the school that would change my daughter’s life.
Most of the public schools started a few weeks before ISBVI so Lola began to notice the big yellow bus on our street everyday. She would shout for the bus only for it never to stop for her. The look of defeat was enough to just break my heart. So you can imagine how delighted she was when her father and I whispered, “Lola, it’s time to get up to get ready for school,” extremely early on a Monday morning. She knew right away what the routine was and you could hear the pure joy in her voice as she squealed when we shouted, “The bus is here!” Terri, the bus driver, and Toshua, the bus monitor, were almost as giddy because they finally got their Lola back.
Lola’s in her last year of preschool and we were thankful that she was assigned to be with her former teacher, Mrs. Tubbs, once again. Mrs. Tubbs has a small class of students all with various visual impairments. I love saying each student’s name at the end of the day because Lola will start to giggle. Her responses through her animated expressions give me tiny glimpses into her day. She is starting to use more words with meanings behind them. Just tonight she asked to bike and I know Lola’s quite a fan of the bike at school as well. What Lola isn’t able to tell me about her day, Mrs. Tubbs writes in a daily journal. These journals have become my saving grace over the years. I long to read the entries just as I do a good book. Most days the entries are simple, but every now and then, I’ll read an epic milestone and beam with joy. I, too, share parts of Lola’s life from the evening or over the weekend. It’s quite comforting to have this open communication with Mrs. Tubbs. She will give us ideas to implement with Lola so that we’re always on the same page. While I’m elated for Lola to start kindergarten next year, we will miss Mrs. Tubbs. She’s been so good to our daughter and family.
Lola started at ISBVI when she was just three-years-old. She had no speech, she couldn’t walk and she comprehended very little. The very first day the bus pulled up, it was unimaginably difficult to let her go. I so badly wanted to keep her home, shelter her from the world and the unknowns that go along with it. But I knew if I held her back, I’d regret it. And Lola has done nothing but blossom while at ISBVI. In fact, we couldn’t have asked for a better school for Lola especially during these early years. She has been cheered on, supported, pushed to try harder, looked after and, most importantly, loved. She is in an environment where she is known and cared for by teachers, assistants, nurses, dietary staff, administrators, librarians and even the janitor mentioned to Rob about how happy Lola is while at school. People understand her. She isn’t looked at as different. She isn’t shunned because she has her bad days. Her epilepsy is concerning for the staff, but it’s not an inconvenience.
At ISBVI she’s just Lola.
She’s a student trying to lay her path in the world just like everyone else. Some critics say that going to a specialty school like ISBVI protects Lola from the reality of the world. Many believe mainstreaming kids with disabilities into typical school classrooms is more beneficial to the child. What I’ve learned is that we have to do what we feel is right for Lola. Each and every year we evaluate Lola’s school setting to determine where she would benefit the most. For now, ISBVI is the perfect fit. I understand why mainstreaming is important, but I also know she is thriving with a staff who understand the complexities that surround Lola’s visual impairment. And her fantastic therapists are employed by the school so that means strategies are implemented all throughout the day. You couldn’t find that at most school districts. I also know that Lola will spend her whole life convincing society to let her fit in. Kids can be mean. Adults can be meaner. While we wish our society was more inclusive of people with disabilities, they are not. Not yet anyway. So if we can have peace of mind that she’s in a school setting where she’s just a little girl who’s here to make a difference in the world, then we’ll gladly take it.
Last week I had the pleasure of taking Lola to school and I was amazed with Lola’s familiarity with the routine. Her class was on their way to art, but Lola had to drop off her backpack in the classroom first — and she did. She took her backpack to her hook and when I opened the backpack, she pulled out the journal and went into another room where Mrs. Tubbs’ desk was sitting. She gently set her journal on the desk and I told her it was time to go to art class. I was shocked as she bolted out of the room, turned right down the hall, made a left past the administrative area and this is where we found Mrs. Tubbs. She knew where she was supposed to go. Her art teacher eagerly greeted her in the tucked away art room. As I said goodbye, I became that sappy mom. Tears formed as I walked through the halls. I heard dance music coming from the gym for PE (we are told Lola’s quite the dancer), I listened to instruments being played in music class, I admired student’s tactile artwork displayed on the walls, and I had several ISBVI staff members approach me to tell me what a delightful little girl Lola is. She is in a sensory rich environment and she is receiving an education that is conducive to her style of learning. She is right where she needs to be at ISBVI and, for that, we are thankful.
The hot Indiana days are winding down so we have spent every weekend at a park or a pool. While my Michigan-born blood is ready for crisp nights that require sweaters, snuggling with my warm babies, hot cocoa and fuzzy blankets, I’m not quite ready to stop seeing the joy that days at the pool bring to my children. Thankfully, we found Lola an inclusive swimming program through a local organization for kids with disabilities called the Joseph Maley Foundation. Her first swim lesson is this Sunday so I’ll be sure to share more soon.