Sep 032016

Whenever I visit my co-author and friend, Kristina, I feel as if I have woken up a bit more.

She is the personification of character, integrity, and compassion that would make this world a far better place if only the masses would agree to aspire to her example.

Kristina and I at Hearthfire Book Signing #2As I had posted on Facebook several months ago, Kristina went through a pretty rough surgery at the tail end of February of this year. She had her Baclofen pump (the device that delivers muscle relaxants to her lumbar area) replaced so that she can get relief from the incessant pain. The recovery was a bit slow at the beginning. Healing took a while. Kristina needed time for all of her bodily systems to run smoothly again.

The Epitome of GraceBut, Kristina is back. This was made clear during my most recent visit with her at Life Care Center of Evergreen. She still talks to others about our book, The Epitome of Grace: A Journey of Student and Teacher, and is selling them to new acquaintances and staff members. Last night, she had a table set up in the lobby with our book on display. She spent six hours at that table yesterday and sold numerous copies.

One element of Kristina’s demeanor is her “can-do” attitude. Another character trait that simply astounds me is her inexhaustible concern for others. She constantly seeks a way to assist those around her. Kristina is a gregarious individual and has befriended both residents and staff at her new dwelling place. She easily adopts all as family.

Life Care Center of Evergreen is a quality residence for those who have high needs. When she got there soon after her surgery, I asked her how she felt about being there. She simply responded, “It is what it is.” I was reminded of why we entitled our book The Epitome of Grace. This is who she is. She accepts her life situation with grace.

Kristina is at a crossroads in her life. She currently lives in a residential care facility. In layman’s terms, a nursing home. Life circumstances change through time. The nature of this life is impermanence…

Kristina’s parents visit frequently. Susanne and Bob continue to love and support her as they always have. They take her out and involve her in activities. Her parents honor her quest for independence as a young woman. She continues to attend Mountain Community Pathways during the day. She participates in activities through Evergreen Parks and Recreation. She continues to market our book. Like I said, she is quite gregarious.

Ever since she was admitted to Evergreen Life Care Center, Kristina’s dream was to find a host home in the Evergreen area. Every time that I visited her, she told me of her efforts to make this dream a reality.

Well, last night, I found out that these dreams are coming to fruition. It appears that Kristina has found her host home. I met Theresa, the woman that is opening her heart and home to Kristina. Theresa works at Life Care Center and was obviously captured by Kristina’s spirit.  Provided all goes as planned, Kristina will be residing in Indian Hills. Now, there are those pesky bureaucratic hoops to jump through…

Somehow, being in Kristina’s presence causes me to reflect on my own conduct as a human being. And yes, a teacher of middle school students with special needs, too. This is why I am still her student. After each visit with her, I walk away learning valuable lessons about teaching, about life.

I think our friendship is a testament to how the public education system can help create remarkable relationships between teachers and students by simply placing them in close proximity to one another. Kristina’s parents insisted that she be placed in the most inclusive environment possible. They wanted her to attend her neighborhood school.  Some were encouraging her parents to consent to placing her in a more restrictive environment, such as a specialty school, due to her severe cerebral palsy and other related physical and learning challenges, but her parents did not heed this advice.

I became her middle school teacher. Lucky for me.

After visiting with her, I reflected on the four years that she spent in my classroom; the five years spent co-authoring and publishing The Epitome of Grace: A Journey of Student and Teacher. I thought of the times we have visited together since our book was published. Obviously, she has had a profound effect on me. Still does.

Driving home, memories of all the students I have had the privilege to cross paths with in the classroom and, of course, those students that I have now, flashed through my stream of consciousness.

As teachers, we often wonder what impact we have made on students. I wonder if students take pause and ruminate about what effect they have on teachers.

Whenever I remember Kristina’s other-centeredness it affects the manner in which I interact with my students. It affects the manner in which I teach. Thinking of her, and how she conducts herself, is a constant life lesson.

DSCI0151 - CopyI also mused about the current state of our broken educational system and its test and punish mindset; the ever harder push corporate reformers are making to privatize our public education system. I lamented about the desire by an exclusive group of primarily politicians, special interests, wealthy philanthropists, and business interests to continue their plan to siphon taxpayer dollars into their pockets at the expense of children, parents, teachers, and the community at large while telling the general public that it is in the best interests of children. Yeah right. The reformsters just want to continue their scheme of making money off the backs of children.

I thought of how we as a nation could make things better for students who need special services in our education system. First, stop the damn reform movement. It is a detriment to our children and, quite frankly, is immoral. Return public schools to the public and let’s collectively nurture them back to health. It has been damaged by powerful zealots.

Second, offer a rich variety of electives. The fine arts, including music and theater, are important. Technology classes are important. Life skills classes are imperative. Remember home economics, shop, and consumer economics? These are what kids, especially kids with special needs, require. Students need to learn these skills in order to navigate this thing that we call, uhmmm… life.

Last, but not least: Make the financial commitment to invest in our children. Doing so ensures that when adulthood arrives, they will be ready. Not everyone has the tenacity that Kristina possesses. There are still many children and adults with disabilities that require our support.

It takes a strong, cohesive community to ensure that those who have challenges to overcome see their dreams come true. As a society, we have a long way to go…

Given that the largest minority in the United States are those with disabilities, what are your thoughts with respect to how we, including schools and government agencies, can further assist those with diverse needs?

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