You should have been walking across the stage this week at commencement, along with all your peers who started school with you in 2001. You should have been with them, celebrating the end of 13 years of schooling.
You had been with them at the start, all excited to finally be going to school. You couldn’t wait to learn how to read, how to write, how to add and to subtract.
But by the end of your Grade 1 year, it became apparent that learning was not going to be easy for you. Your teacher noticed that you seemed to have difficulty writing what you knew. You were one of many students in her class who needed help.
She did not have any support for any of you.
Your teacher referred you to a counsellor who put you on a list to be tested by a school psychologist. She told your teacher it would be a few years before you would be seen as there were many other students awaiting assessments.
By the time your name came to the top of the list, your family had moved to another school and somewhere in the shuffle, your file was lost. It would be another 3 years before another teacher tried to get help for you and 6 other students in your class who she could see needed extra help. By this time, there were even fewer school psychologists and the list was 2 years long.
By 2006 the school district’s funding for special needs was not what it had been in 2001 when you started school. It had been gutted to make up for the reduced funding your school district received from the Ministry of Education. Reductions to the number of learning specialists and school psychologists meant that waits became longer and longer.
Soon you were in Grade 8, still without support for your learning difficulties. With all the usual pressures of being in a secondary school, your struggles in the classroom and your struggles to fit in outside the classroom became overwhelming and you began to vent your frustrations by acting out in various ways.
You began to have regular visits to the vice-principal’s office. Your behaviour in class was seen to be more of a problem than your inability to read a short story…
In order to get support you needed to have a Ministry designation. In order to get a Ministry designation, you needed to be assessed. In order to be assessed you needed to see a psychologist. And the waiting list kept getting longer and longer.
But with the help of your teachers, you plodded along . They tried to do for you what they could. You were often one of many students in a class who had difficulties learning. All different kinds of difficulties. In fact in some of your classes, there were only 2 students without any difficulties of one kind or another.
You managed to move through your grades because you could explain orally what you were learning. When a teacher asked, you could explain a concept but when it came to writing it down, you had trouble.
Your teachers knew that what you needed was both a special education teacher and an education assistant. But in order to get that help, you needed to get a designation.
By the time you got to Grade 10, you were so tired of trying so hard to do what was asked of you. It seemed that no matter how many hours you spent on an assignment, you could only just barely pass it. You became increasingly frustrated because you understood the questions, you could just not write down the answers that you knew. .
You began skipping school and hanging out at the mall.
You got into quite bit of trouble for doing that which got you into the vice-principal’s office but not into a school psychologist’s office.
By the time you were finally designated, at the end of Grade 10, there had been such severe funding cuts made that you could not get the help you were finally entitled to. And since you were now over 16 years old, you did not have to be in school.
And so you left.
But no one wanted to hire anyone who had not graduated high school.
You eventually got a job stacking shelves for minimum wage in a dollar store.
When you were in kindergarten, you had wanted to be a policeman or a fireman or a doctor. You had lots of options back then.
What you wanted most of all was to be a hero to people, to help them, to make a difference. You wanted to fix things, to make things better.
On the day your peers were at their commencement, you were working a 12 hour shift, stacking shelves at the local dollar store.
They tweeted their pictures to you. You wished you were with them.
Your teachers wished that too.
They have been in a 12-year battle to get more support for students like you.