The following is the text of the Delaware County Right to Education Task Force nomination for a Making a Difference Award that I submitted for Sophie’s friend Eliza. The Making a Difference Award recognizes staff members and students who have gone out of their way through their work, support, or friendship to be accepting, understanding and make sure to include children of all abilities.
“My daughter Sophie, who is in kindergarten at XXXX Elementary, happens to have a developmental disability. Her placement is in the regular kindergarten classroom with supports and services pushed into the class. As excited as we were about our daughter going to school, we were also nervous. Would she be happy? Would she make friends? On the first day we instructed her brother Alexander, who is in the 2nd grade, to sit next to her on the bus so that she wouldn’t be alone. He held her hand and the two of them got on the bus together.
From day one Sophie and Eliza became friends. Eliza is a fellow kindergarten student who does not have a disability. I have watched how naturally this friendship developed into something really special and ordinary at the same time. Parents of children with a disability can relate that the most basic experiences of life don’t always come easily for our children. Having a true friendship is something we dream of for our kids, but often fear that it might not happen.
Our first clue that kindergarten was going to be ok was during the first week of school. As Alexander and Sophie boarded the bus together, we noticed a group of her peers sitting in the front seat next to Sophie’s safety seat. They were excited to see her and clamored over which one of them would get to sit next to her. The same thing happened shortly afterwards when Sophie arrived at Back to School Night. We watched as Sophie ran off with her peers, leaving us behind. It became routine and was apparent that these friends were in it for the long haul. Every day they are excited to sit with her on the bus.
Eliza, in particular, has a special friendship with Sophie that I’ve been blessed to quietly witness. On the many days that Sophie has stayed home sick this school year, as we said good-bye to Alexander on the bus Eliza was visibly disappointed and asked about her friend. In class, Eliza and Sophie are frequently together. They often sit close during story time and next to each other at the tables during projects. When it is time to put materials away, Eliza gently guides Sophie to their cubbies as they scamper off to the next lesson. During one lesson, the children were to draw a picture and write a story. Sophie worked with her aid while Eliza sat next to her. Eliza drew a picture and wrote about the two of them playing together. This friendship extends outside of school as well. When the girls are at a birthday party, for example, they play together beautifully.
Eliza is a beautiful child. She accepts Sophie and understands her in a way that I as her mother or the professionals that work with Sophie can only strive to see her. Eliza does not see through a lens of ‘disability.’ She does not care that Sophie has a very limited vocabulary and learns differently. She knows nothing of IEPs, social goals, or modified curriculums and yet she can teach us all about inclusion because it has come naturally for her. She has no idea that her love of my daughter has been a dream realized. She’s a little girl who loves her friend. How amazing and how ordinary.”
I’m thrilled to share that Eliza won! The banquet took place this week and it was a beautiful event. Our family joined with Eliza, her parents, two bothers, 3 grandparents (who travelled to get here), and Eliza’s former pre-K teacher. The girls were glued together and when it came time for them to go on stage, for Eliza to accept her award, and for them to pose for a photo, they both did great!
This is a special and unexpected friendship that we will treasure always. Although I had begun to imagine watching the girls grow up together, her father has finished his residency and accepted a position in another state. They will move away this summer but will never be forgotten. Many tears were shed that night and not all of them were mine. Eliza is a beautiful girl who comes from an amazing family and we are blessed to know them.