I have been fortunate in my career to have had the opportunity to learn with a gentleman by the name of Geery Howe. Geery provides learning and support in systems thinking and strategic planning. One of the concepts that I carry with me is wrapped up in the closing activity that we did at the end of a long day of learning. We would be asked to tell everyone, “What did we learn? What did we relearn?”, and “What did we unlearn?” As we begin to place the pandemic in our rear-view mirror and drive toward our next level of success, I find these questions more and more a part of my reflections about the districts work and my life.
One evening last week, I was blessed to watch as a moment became a memory for my grandson. It was a relearning I’ll carry with me for a very long time. Since December our daughter, Emily and her three children, Edison and Lena (twins who are 4), and Tucker (who is 6) have been living with us. Due to significant, ongoing water contamination on Oahu in Hawaii, she and her husband decided it was best for her and the children to return here while her husband continues his active duty tour there. They will relocate to Colorado Springs in the summer. While our life as empty nesters have been significantly impacted, the time with our grandchildren and our daughter is precious and far beyond worth it.
Tucker was born with Spina Bifida and does not walk. He is currently attending West Burlington Elementary School and loves it here. He loves school and, in the classroom, he is a pretty typical student.
On with the point. Last week, one evening, I was sitting in my recliner doing some school work and he was sitting on the floor telling me about his school day. We were having a delightful conversation. Then his mom came in and told Tucker that his dad wanted him to watch a video and handed him the phone. He took the phone and began watching it. This was not atypical as his parents continually work to support and provide him opportunities to experience what could be.
The video his dad sent to him was a video from America’s Got Talent Extreme with Simon Cowell. It was about a young man in his mid-20’s who had been born with Spina Bifida and used a wheelchair. Tucker was mesmerized, grandma was horrified. The young man was married, with a dog and fish, and had developed his skill in what I would call wheelboarding, extreme skateboarding tricks in a wheelchair.
Tucker went back and forth throughout the video. As it opened he stopped the video and said, “Grandma, he has Spina Bifida like me.”, and then he became quiet, strangely quiet. As it ended Emily came in and asked him what he thought. He sat there in silence, those of you who have met him know that silence is not his nature. She knelt down beside him and asked him again, “What did you think, Tucker?” and suddenly he broke down sobbing. He sobbed in her arms for what seemed like an eternity.
Emily probed his thoughts ever so gently. In his mind, as a six-year old, he thought would never be able to do so many things that he saw his friends and others doing. In his mind, at the age of six, he had resigned himself to the concept that so much of what he loved he would never be able to experience. My heart broke until I listened to her words with him, “You can do what others do, you may just have to do it differently but you can do it. You can accomplish what you want with hard work and commitment. “
From those moments, I felt I “relearned” so much about the why of public schools, our passions in life. I relearned both the importance and the responsibility we as a school and us as a community have post- pandemic. I believe we all have left a bit of ourselves in the pandemic; our children maybe the most. As we move forward together we must, beyond question, demonstrate an unbounded commitment to believe in all children so in turn they have the confidence and tools to believe in themselves. We must do this every day through our actions large and small and through our words.
As the foundation of all else, first our children must know that we believe in them, if they are to believe in themselves.