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You are going to be hearing a lot from me in the next few weeks. Fairfax Elementary School has entered the Big Lots Lots2Give video competition in the hopes of winning $20,000 for an adaptive play structure that can be used by our special education students and our regular education students side by side. Unfortunately, the quality of our video and the conviction of our plea are not worth much as this is simply a popularity contest. So I need you to VOTE VOTE VOTE.

Every single day between now and July 7, you can vote up to three times each day from every single device you own. Desktops, laptops, smartphones, iPads and iPods, tablets, anything you own that connects to the Internet can earn us three votes. Just follow this link http://www.biglots.com/lots2give/vote/link?videoId=2c9461ed3ef0cbad013ef168adfa0003, watch the video (or not, but it’s nicely done and Braedan is in a light blue shirt playing the recorder around the 15th second), and enter the captcha code to vote.  And then do it all again on your next device. And then do it all again the next day. And then share it with everyone you know. Over and over and over.

As a sort of funny aside, I was asked to write the “500-word essay” to accompany our school’s entry, which I’ve copied below. Unfortunately, when we went to submit it, we discovered that the fine print actually said a 500-CHARACTER essay.  Including spaces. Hmmm. Well now, that calls for a slightly different tone. So we quickly edited, with vast swipes of the delete button and you can see the results by following this link . . . three times a day, from every device you own, over and over and over again. You get the picture.

And thank you.

Learn Together, Play Together

Fairfax Elementary School in Cleveland Heights prides itself on serving all kinds of students. We educate, nurture and inspire children from a broad range of backgrounds, across many races, religions and socio-economic classes. These children work and play side-by-side, learning, reading, singing and growing as equals and peers.

Our building is also home to students with a wide range of physical and developmental delays and disabilities, including cerebral palsy, lack of mobility, and coordination and balance issues.

Our building staff works hard to ensure that able-bodied and disabled students have authentic opportunities to interact during classtime when appropriate, in their non-academic specials, such as music and art, as well as during lunch and in extra-curricular activities. All our children learn and benefit from such meaningful integration with one another. There is great beauty in watching a student confined to a wheelchair clapping alongside her classmates as they perform in their spring musical concert. Or in watching the able-bodied students in the after-school tumbling class break into spontaneous applause when their developmentally delayed peer executes a less than perfect somersault.

But there is one place in our building where these groups of students cannot safely interact and that is on our school playground. With modifications and assistance, some of our exceptional students are able to use the traditional playground equipment we currently have but it would be neither safe nor practical for them to use it simultaneously with the rest of the school population. This forced segregation renders that most-beloved time of the school day – recess—as a separate and unequal activity.

The Fairfax School PTA has worked in conjunction with the special education teachers and a team of dedicated fifth graders to identify new playground equipment specifically designed for integrated use by able-bodied and disabled students. Installing such equipment would dramatically alter the course of every day for our exceptional students: they would suddenly be welcome to share in the joy of recess with their peers, laughing, spinning, climbing and sliding side-by-side. They would experience the pride and dignity of being able to use their own playground with minimal assistance from aides, enjoying the same feelings of mastery and independence that their fellow students enjoy.

Furthermore, because our playground sits along a heavily traveled road, a new handicapped-accessible playground would publicly and visibly proclaim our school’s commitment to inclusion. And as a vibrant neighborhood gathering space during non-school hours, the new equipment could be available to any in the community who should need it.

We believe that every student at Fairfax School should have equal access to all of the building’s amenities, no matter what kind of body they were born with. The joy of play should be universal. But we simply cannot afford to do this on our own. Big Lots Lots2Give program can help.

Please vote.

And so, just like that, another year goes by. My sweet boys finished school on Thursday and suddenly I find myself the mother of a rising first grader and a rising fourth grader.

Austin had a truly fabulous year: learned to read, made new friends and thrived in every possible way. After all that back and forth about when to send him to kindergarten, I can finally say that we did the right thing. I know a woman, the grandmother of some kids at Fairfax as well as at local private schools, who has tutored in our building the past few years and she recently said that if she had a kindergarten-aged child and could choose any single teacher in all of Northeast Ohio for that child to have, she would choose this one:

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Braedan’s year was okay, with one good teacher and one, well, I don’t want to use this as a place to publicly criticize someone, but let’s just say we’re glad the year is over.

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But he does have truly wonderful friends.

As for mama bear, I have finished my fourth and final course and have freshly renewed certification to teach first through eighth grades in the great state of Ohio. Unfortunately, the single district in which I’m willing to teach (ours) laid off 32 teachers in April due to a reduction in force and cannot even look at outside candidates until all those teachers have been rehired. Although information is hard to confirm (and that’s putting it lightly — I swear, this stuff is guarded by the CIA), it seems that most of the elementary classroom teachers have indeed been rehired by now and I am still fingers-crossed-hope-hope-hoping that there may be a spot left over for little ol’ me.

But for now, we look forward to a summer of friends, relaxation, Chautauqua, waterskiing and baseball, baseball, baseball.

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