Collin will be celebrating his First Eucharist on Sunday, April 30th, which is less than a week away! To prepare, he's been participating in activities with other members of his Faith Formation class and completing the "Encounter with Christ: Eucharist" workbook at home. Later this week, I will get out some of my memorabilia from May 12, 1991, the day I received my First Holy Communion. The most exciting addition to our preparations has been a copy of "Your First Communion: Meeting Jesus, Your True Joy" written by none other than Pope Francis and published by the wonderful people at Magnificat/Ignatius.
I mean, who better here on Earth to prepare you for your First Eucharist other than our Holy Father? We've been reading little bits of it just before bed. It's the perfect guide for young people who are beginning to show a deeper understanding of their world and who are becoming capable of and interested in exploring the depths of their faith as they are further initiated into the Catholic church. This isn't a "baby book," nor is it a copy of the Cathecism. This is a book written to be read by elementary and middle school students, but anyone can enjoy it! Pope Francis' gentle, authoritative voice is comforting and engaging. He asks the readers questions, which Collin and I discuss, like, "Have you thought about the talents God has given you?" (Collin's answer: "I'm really good at watching YouTube videos" led to a conversation about how to fill our time on earth sharing the gifts God has given us...maybe that's what those YouTubers are up to...) Pope Francis makes abstract concepts, like the Holy Trinity, seem simple. At one point, he explains: "Our whole life is meetings with Jesus: in prayer, when we go to Mass, and when we do good works..." Pope Francis always has a way of making faith tangible.
I also like that Pope Francis is, like me, a fan of the exclamation point! There is so much joy to be found in these 40 beautifully illustrated pages. The exclamation points are a great cue to young readers that our faith is something worth celebrating. And in less than one week, we will be celebrating Collin's very important meeting with Jesus. We will leave Pope Francis' book out to share with our friends and for them to write messages to Collin on the pages designated for that purpose at the end of the book.
If someone you know is celebrating their First Eucharist, "Your First Communion: Meeting Jesus, Your True Joy," can be found at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com. (You may just want a copy for yourself, anyway!)
April 23, 2017 10:20
By Robyn Barberry
I have asked several friends, co-workers, and family members to write about what a Catholic education means to them. Previously, Gina Sabo, the Technology Integration Specialist, at St. Joan of Arc School in Aberdeen, wrote about why she chooses to teach in a Catholic school. Today, she reveals 5 reasons why she and her husband, Jon, have decided to send their 7-year-old son, Danny, to St. Joan of Arc. I'm blessed to have the Sabo family in my life at home and at school.
Why do I send my son to a Catholic School? by Gina Sabo
My husband and I have been happily married for almost 10 years. We have a beautiful, rambunctious, 7-year old boy, and two years ago, we had to make an important decision. We had to consider serious, life-altering decisions (I was in the middle of changing jobs) on where we would want our young impressionable child to start his formal education.
Now, my husband and I were both part of the “hybrid” Catholic School and public school upbringing. We had attended both types of environments at some point in our educational career, so we knew what each type of school brought to the table.
The public school our son would be attending had several amazing teachers, great after school opportunities he could participate in, and many of his friends would attend the same school. Their test scores were high, and they had access to the public library programs right next door. The before and after school program would allow for us to not make any major changes to our work schedules, however, it would cost as much for the Catholic School tuition. With that being said, it was a serious contender in our discussions.
The Catholic School we were considering had students who performed well on standardized test scores, and the student-teacher ratio was something public school teachers dream about. It offered Spanish, art, and music much like the public school, and SMART Boards, and iPads in every classroom. But the most important difference we saw in the Catholic School that was lacking in the public school was the spirit you felt walking through the front door.
So here are just a few reasons why we choose to send our son to Catholic School:
Like many families, we pray together as a family. We say grace at mealtimes and we ask our guardian angels to watch over us when things get tough. But we also try to pray throughout the day. When we encounter an accident while we are traveling anywhere (the store, long trips to see family, etc.) we always say a quick prayer for whoever was involved. We thank God for all the beautiful things we encounter in nature. At our school, we say morning prayers, Grace, a short prayer before classes start. Sometimes we even pray the rosary together as a school. My son is able to freely ask questions about his faith, and discuss how much he enjoys learning about God and praying with his friends. It is my husband’s and my hope that through our guidance and the continued support from the school, that our son turns to God in times of need.
Okay, so this may seem like an odd reason to send my child to Catholic School, but hear me out. Although uniforms can be expensive, most Catholic Schools participate in a uniform exchange program. This helps keeping the cost down for many families. Uniforms are also a timesaver in the morning. Although I have to remember if it is a P.E. day or regular uniform, I don’t have to argue over whether or not a certain shirt is clean. This allows for more family time in the morning before we trek to work and school. While in school, it is clear that it is time to focus on the learning, and not who has the best label or newest shoes. Everyone was created equal in the eyes of God, so why not extend that into the learning environment as well.
Wanting to Serve Others
In school, each grade level participates in outreach and service projects. Students make sandwiches for the hungry, collect money for the poor. This year, they participated in the Water Project to raise awareness and money for those who do not have access to clean water. At Christmas time, the school rallies together and sponsors a family. The students and their families gather gifts for those who are less fortunate. In our own families, we volunteer for Faith Formation Classes, take food to those less fortunate for Thanksgiving, and help out with other church-sponsored activities.
Danny paints a bowl for the Empty Bowls program
It is my hope, that through my husband’s and my example, as well as through his experience in the Catholic School, that our son sees that we don’t do these things just to give back to the community (though this too is noble) but, that we are following in Jesus’s footsteps, and he will continue to do so as he gets older.
It’s Academic …. But Not the Most Important Thing
Yes, learning is an important aspect of any school. However, it wouldn’t matter if the school had a state of the art Science lab, a robotics club, or drama. I am more concerned that my child becomes a kind, selfless person. The Catholic School practices the same values that we as parents “preach” at home.
Can’t Do It Alone
Jon and Danny Sabo on the first day of school.
Although I would like to believe that my husband and I would be able to provide all our son needs to have a personal relationship with God. That he will grow up to value his Catholic faith and upbringing. But I would be naive to believe that we could do that alone. Children learn from example; not only from their parents/guardians, but also from other children and adults. We do what we can at home, but in this day and age, we can use all the help we can get. I am so thankful for the community of our Catholic School. You see, our school is similar to the public school in many ways. But it is clearly more than just a school. It is a tight knit community. Our students, faculty, and parents come together every day in a community of faith and warmth. Something that has grown increasingly more important in a world of harsh realities. Our school provides an important space for our students to feel a sense of belonging and a safe haven to openly discuss their beliefs, hopes, and dreams. Yes, our school prepares their minds, but with the help of our Catholic Faith, it prepares their souls.
February 13, 2017 12:00
By Robyn Barberry
I asked several friends, coworkers, and family members to write about what Catholic schools mean to them. Today you will hear from my dear friend and colleague, Gina Sabo, who is the Technology Integration Specialist at St. Joan of Arc School in Aberdeen. It's been an honor to work with her over the past decade in several settings. We both agree that working at SJA has brought us tremendous happiness.
5 reasons why I teach in a Catholic school by Gina Sabo
The author and her son, Danny, on the first day of school.
Why do I teach in a Catholic School?
I have heard this question and many other as to my choice to teach in a Catholic school.
“Aren’t you limiting yourself career wise? There’s not much room for growth!”
“Aren’t you afraid of your school closing?”
“You know you can get paid more in the public school, right?”
In reality, my school isn’t much different than that of a public school. Our students come from all walks of life. We have parents that email...some more than others. We have meetings and professional development. Behavior problems. More meetings. Standardized testing. Budgets. And new standards to meet.
But the one thing that makes my school stand out - God. My School’s Mission Statement describes a “faith community of educators, learners, and families using God’s gifts to develop 21st Century skills of innovation, collaboration, problem-solving, and reasoning to enrich the global society” (St. Joan of Arc School). It is within this type of environment that I cannot imagine being without.
So when I have to “defend” my decision to teach in the Catholic School, here are just five of the reasons:
As I mentioned before, our school is a tight-knit community of teachers, students, parents, and administrators. Some could say that it is because we all have that one thing that binds us together-faith, but I tend to lean more towards the fact that we truly care about each other. We have students who return after graduation talking of how much they loved the sense of belonging they felt while attending our school. As teachers, we bond together over shared students we have watched grow over the years. The administration gets to know each child on an individual level, and cheers them on by name. Even our Pastor, Father Willie Franken, offers words of wisdom and guidance to our families at just the right time. Faculty, students, and parents all come together and pray for those who are sick, celebrate a new baby or wedding shower, or even provide a special gift to a student whose family needs to leave mid-year.
Encourages Me to Be a Better Christian and Role Model
Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you attend or teach at a public or Catholic school; all teachers are being watched daily by their students and parents. Eyes are always watching to see how to react and how they should structure their behaviors. Parents are personally making sure teachers are meeting their students’ needs. In my school, however, students are also watching my devotion to the Lord. My students can smell the difference between real and fake, so this encourages me to constantly keep myself in check and be authentic in my relationship with my students and God.
Everything is Geared Towards Christ
In the public school setting, I was constantly worried about offending someone. I had to watch what I said and how I said it. In the Catholic school, I am able to complement, discuss, and even explain my beliefs without worry of offending my students. Often, I can praise a student “God has truly blessed you with the talent for drawing,” or thank a student for their help during Mass. Students can openly discuss their love for God and our daily lessons are often linked to the Fruits of the Spirit.
Holidays - Big and Small
In the Catholic school, the holidays - both big and small - are celebrated with a certain sort of style. The Christmas season appears more humble throughout the school. Giving, rather than receiving, is the moving force within the classrooms. Students focus on service projects and the birth of Christ. In May we celebrate Mary, the mother of Jesus. As a school, we meet in the “Grotto” outside our building and place the crown of flowers atop her head and recite a shortened version of the rosary. It is these spiritual practices that, for me, make teaching in the Catholic School special.
Someone Always Has Your Back
No matter where you work, obstacles are always encountered. Calling for help can include a conversation with technical support, help from a co-worker, or even a meeting with your boss. Working in a Catholic School, you can seek help from a higher authority. Our staff begins each week in prayer. Just before the students enter the building, we gather together in our Faculty Lounge, and thank God for our abilities and blessings, and ask for his help. Throughout the school year, we support each other in highs and lows. We celebrate the small victories and pray over difficult times. We are assured through our faith that no matter what happens, God’s love for us will be there forever.
February 12, 2017 12:35
By Robyn Barberry
What is the one thing that every person in the world needs every day? Water. (5-13 gallons of it per day, to be exact.) In the United States, we are blessed to have access to an abundance of clean water for brushing our teeth, washing our clothes, our dishes, our bodies, cooking, and, of course, drinking. But over a billion people in developing countries, such as sub-Saharan Africa, do not have access to the very think that keeps us clean, healthy, and alive.
At St. Joan of Arc School, we always strive to care for others and the environment. So, when we were asked to participate in The Water Challenge, through The Water Project, Inc., all of us joined the cause. Participants are asked to drink nothing but water in a reusable bottle for two weeks and document the milk, juice, soda, and coffee they eliminate. At the end of two weeks, each person donates the money they saved by choosing water over other drinks. The goal is for each person to raise $23. A few months after the money is returned to The Water Project, Inc., donors will receive a report of where their money went, including GPS coordinates! It turns their small sacrifice into something big and important.
The idea is similar to the kind of fasting we do in Lent. The Water Challenge offers us the chance to think about those who have less than we do and to appreciate something we often take advantage. It also enables us to avoid the waste associated with disposable water bottles. Finally, it encourages us to take better care of our bodies by avoiding caffeinated and sugary drinks.
It was a rough start for many of the students, including my second-grader Collin. They were upset that they wouldn’t be able to enjoy the juices they ordered for hot lunch or the lemonade at our Chik-fil-a fundraiser night. It was a big change for little kids, but when teachers like myself rose up to the challenge, our involvement and the reminder wristbands they wore inspired the students to stay on board.
Now the students are excited about their small sacrifice to make the world a better place. Collin even got my tea-drinking parents involved. They send us photo updates to let us know that they’re drinking their H2O! (Now that we've got them hooked, we need to convert them to reusable water bottles!)
It’s not too late for you or your organization to participate in The Water Challenge
. If you’re not a fan of tap water, you can buy a filter for your sink or a pitcher for your refrigerator. Even my gym has an awesome water fountain filter! An excellent selection of reusable water bottles can be found in many stores and on Amazon.com. Nalgene, Camelback, and Tervis make excellent leak-proof bottles and cups in a variety of sizes. I’m a big fan of the coated aluminum canteens like the 32 oz. mint green one I have by Simple Modern. My water stays cold for 24 hours!
Since we started The Water Project I have more energy and am more aware of my water usage in other settings. I’ve been thinking about those who suffer because of their limited access to potable water. I hope that the money we donate can help make their lives better. Above all, I thank God for providing my family with a safe, clean source of the one thing we need most.
January 14, 2017 12:40
By Robyn Barberry
On Oct. 17, I sustained a concussion when a metal fence collapsed on me. It brought with it a guy who was about a foot taller than me. It was a freak accident, but one that landed me in the hospital. I don’t remember much of the first week of my recovery. I slept while family members and friends took care of my children. I missed two weeks of work, which was probably the hardest part.
I don’t work an ordinary job in an ordinary place. I have the honor of being a Catholic school teacher at St. Joan of Arc in Aberdeen. My work is my second home and everyone there is family to me. While I stayed home and rested, other teachers and teachers’ assistants arranged to cover my classes so that the students were still getting their weekly does of art. They even planned on staying with me when I returned. Some of my school friends even helped me with getting Collin to and from school. One day he came home and said, “Everyone misses you mom! Especially me.”
Some teachers had their classes make cards for me. Some were funny, like the drawings of me that Lizzie and Seeley made for me. Others were beautiful, like the sweet scribbles annotated by our thoughtful pre-K teacher or the Halloween-themed card created by my student Roman, who is a cancer survivor.
One 8th grader made a tie-dye card and signed it from her entire family, with who I'm blessed to share my school and church life. Every picture and every message made me want to be back at school. Over and over again, I received messages that teachers, students, and their families were praying for me. How blessed I am to teach in a place where prayer is always welcome.
When I returned to school, I felt like an Olympian returning home for a victory parade. I was met with a receiving line of hugs, the first of whom was from my principal, one of the most caring and understanding people I've ever met. Even the big kids were glad to see me. One first grader wouldn’t let me go.
“I’ve missed you for years and years!” she shouted.
“Shh!” another girl said, “Her ears are very sensitive.” (As it turned out, our kind new librarian had talked to all the classes about my symptoms.) Even though I have a headache most of the time, I’m seldom bothered by the noises children make. In fact, the Kindergarten class sang a beautiful song for me. “It’s melt your heart,” a little girl said. It did.
“How are you feeling?” an upper school teacher asked.
“I’m getting there,” I said. (It’s my go-to response. I hate to complain, so I think it’s a nice way of saying “I’m not at my best, but I'm trying.”)
“I know you’re probably getting tired of us asking, but we do it because we love you!” she said.
I was definitely feeling the love, but I was feeling something else, too: mercy. All of these kind deeds were acts of Mercy, which is especially important as the Year of Mercy draws to a close. There will always be time to pray for the sick; to sing to them; to send cards, letters, and artwork; to help ease their transitions back to school; back to work; and to God’s kingdom.
November 02, 2016 05:17
By Robyn Barberry
While Patrick and I were preparing to be married, we attended Pre-Cana classes with Kevin and Gilly MacNamara. During one of our sessions, Kevin revealed to Patrick and me the secret to any successful relationship (especially marriage): clear expectations.
When meeting someone new or intensifying an established relationship, you can prevent conflict and hardship by finding out what the other person expects you to do and not do. At the same time, you let that person know what you do and do not expect to happen between the two of you. Then, you follow through.
This rule has helped Patrick and me to have a very happy marriage, with minimal disagreements. Chores are spilt up, financial boundaries are established, and parenting decisions are agreed upon and mutually unforced. This philosophy has also helped me to get along better with other family members, friends, colleagues, and students. I’ve even started teaching Collin about the importance of meeting other people’s expectations, starting at school. “It’s a new year, with a new teacher, and new rules. Your job is to keep us your end of the promise, so that she can teach and you and your classmates can learn.”
Today, Collin started second grade in Mrs. Amato’s class at St. Joan of Arc School. In addition to being Collin’s teacher, she is also my colleague. She gave an excellent presentation at a faculty meeting last week about PBIS (positive behavioral intervention systems), or rewarding students who demonstrate expected behaviors. By informing students of, exemplifying, and modeling school rules, teachers make it easier for students to do the right thing.
We all laughed when Mrs. Amato described her method of teaching church etiquette. When the church is empty, she has half of the class stand before the altar, facing the congregation, and the rest of the class slouch, yawn, whisper, and otherwise fiddle around. Then they switch. “That’s what Father sees when he’s giving Mass,” she tells them.
Mrs. Amato even has a bulletin board describing what students should and should not do in her classroom. On the first day of class, she will go over each item with the students. She offers examples of how students can demonstrate our school’s expectations, “respect, responsibility, and leadership” by “using a quiet voice,” “using time wisely,” and “volunteering to help,” to name a few. There are even morning and afternoon procedures and a protocol for keeping their desks organized. Mrs. Amato's students will have no doubts about the dos and don'ts of second grade.
Students will earn Class Dojo points and other incentives for exemplary behavior and negative consequences for failing to meet expectations. By using a rewards system, students become conditioned to make good decisions that will have a positive impact on the classroom climate.
When Collin gets home from school, we will talk about Mrs. Amato’s expectations, what they are and why they’re important. We will also develop some rules and routines at home that are fit for a big-kid second grader. Ultimately, more freedom, more responsibility, and more expectations will lead to more success at home, at school, and in life.
August 29, 2016 10:43
By Robyn Barberry
On the first morning of what was going to be one of the most important years of his childhood (loose teeth, bike rides, First Eucharist, cursive handwriting, acting classes), Collin woke up with a bad case of the greedy gimmes.
He woke up begging me to open his gifts. With Patrick's permission, I presented Collin with the three small gifts we had picked out for him: a paint-your-own mini tile set, an Apples-to-Apples photo edition game, and a hardcover Lego book. We couldn't afford much, as we were hosting a small party for him at the local miniature golf course later that day, were going on vacation the following week, and were getting used to being a family of six since his sister had arrived two weeks earlier.
"Where are my other presents?" Collin asked on the morning of his 7th birthday.
"Maybe you'll get some from your friends at your party later on today," I said.
"Birthdays aren't about eating cake with your friends," he said. "It's about getting lots of presents."
"It's important to be with the people you love on your birthday," I told him. "Whether they give you presents or not. When they do, you should always thank them for taking the time to think of you and pick out something they thought you'd like to have. If you don't, you could really hurt their feelings. They might think you don't like their gift. They might think you don't like them.
So, here are the rules:
If they give you something you like, you say, 'thank you.'
If they give you something you don't like, you say, 'thank you.'
If they give you something you already have, you say, 'thank you.'
It's called gratitude. The more you show, the more you will receive. People are more likely to give you something if you show that you appreciate it. Even God likes it when we say 'thanks' for the blessings he's given us."
At his birthday party, Collin acted like the good friend I knew he was. He introduced his friends to his new sister, spent a little bit of time with everyone and demonstrated some genuine enthusiasm every time he opened a gift. I tried to encourage him to thank each of his friends personally for their gifts, but for added measure, we will spend tomorrow afternoon writing notes of gratitude on a stack of comic-style thank you cards, which Collin selected himself. After all, he has a lot to be grateful for.
July 31, 2016 10:11
By Robyn Barberry
Friday March 11th was the best day Frank and I have ever spent together. Like always, he woke up smiling, eager to start another day of adventures. He ran into school and immediately sat down in the big circle with his friends. He said “goodbye” to them and his teacher when I picked him up. He even used their names. He explained and demonstrated how to make a peanut butter sandwich during speech therapy and played quietly with foam letters during the St. Joan of Arc School Lenten Souper, spelling as many words as he could. He was the perfect date during my St. Patrick’s Day party shopping trip. (His favorite part was checking out the vegetables.) He fell asleep in my arms when we got home.
Although this was a good day for Frank, it wasn’t a typical day. Sometimes he chooses not to listen. Sometimes he chooses to wander. Sometimes he chooses to be difficult rather than cooperate. Because of his developmental delays, Frank’s behavior can be unpredictable.
Fortunately, Frank was born to the right mother. I might not be the most organized person in the world, but I am flexible, patient, calm, and compassionate. I possess all the characteristics required to raise a child with special needs, and that’s why God gave Frank to me.
Don’t get me wrong. Taking care of Frank is far from easy. Sometimes it’s exhausting. It’s a constant game of testing limits (his and mine), adjusting expectations, on-the-spot problem solving, overcoming heartaches and celebrating small victories. I am his teacher, his coach, his cheerleader, his security guard, his advocate, his voice. Frank has taught me that the kind of love a mother has for her child with special needs is almost as great as the unconditional love God has for all of His children.
Over the past few days, I’ve had to make some difficult decisions about Frank’s future. During what was supposed to be a fun sports class, Frank couldn’t leave the cones alone that his coach had set up for a slalom course to the basketball hoop. He kept interfering with the other kids’ game, so we left. Since this wasn’t the first time Frank struggled to understand the rules, I had him permanently removed from the class. I want Frank to have the chance to gain social skills in a group environment, but this wasn’t a good situation for him, his coaches, his teammates, or their parents.
I cried the whole way home, not only because he couldn’t make it in the class at the gym, but also because Patrick and I have decided that St. Joan of Arc’s preschool isn’t going to be the best place for him, either. As wonderful as SJA's preschool is, between his IEP and the admissions testing, we don't think Frank is quite ready for such a rigorous program. Frank has made remarkable progress over the past two years, but he still has a long way to go.
I had imagined seeing him in his uniform, and teaching him how to paint, and watching him on the playground next year. I knew that if there was a problem, I could be there in an instant. When you have a child who needs you, you want to be close to them, too. But, sometimes in pursuing what we want for our child, we are missing what he really needs.
We’re searching for a more suitable environment where Frank can get the kind of attention he needs. It’s not easy. His language and social deficits make it hard for him to perform at the same level as his peers. But, the more time he spends with kids his age, observing them and engaging with them, the more he will grow. Since he's been in a three-year-old preschool program, I’ve even seen progress in the way Frank plays with his brothers. (Hopefully he will be equally kind to our new baby.)
Finding a teacher who is willing to put in the extra work it takes to work with a child like Frank is the hardest part. Not everyone has what it takes to teach students with special needs. It requires more patience, more flexibility, more effort, more willpower, and more kindness than it does to teach "normal" kids. Special education teachers embrace the opportunity to grow and help someone else grow, knowing that the moments where you want to tear your hair out are soon followed by moments of incomparable triumph.
Frank is named after my grandfather, Frank A. Chrest, who was a gifted special educator. I wish he was here now to give me advice about how to be a better parent and teacher for Frank. I like to think that he passed along his gift for working with the most challenging students to me. It’s what grants me the fortitude to reach the kinds of kids that other teachers dismiss. It’s what enables me to understand Frank when it seems like no one else does. It’s one way I can approach others with open arms like Jesus did.
March 28, 2016 01:38
By Robyn Barberry
I’m blessed to live a life where I am constantly surrounded by reminders of my faith. Teaching in a Catholic school and passing by my church every day, I seldom forget the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for me and find myself expressing my gratitude to God for all of His blessings more often than I think I would if I weren’t so immersed in my faith.
This is especially true during Holy Week, when it’s impossible to avoid solemn observations of Jesus’ death and the glory of his Resurrection in my home, work, and parish lives. Here are a few of the ways I found myself reflecting upon this most sacred time – without ever leaving my neighborhood.
The Art of the Cross
All of my students made crosses this week in art class.
Younger students used popsicle sticks and embroidery thread.
Older students used nails, wire, and beads.
Our amazing youth minister and middle school religion teacher Nate Nocket and the 7th grade class prepared and performed an impressive living Stations of the Cross production. The music was beautiful and included two songs I’ve fallen in love with, "Good, Good Father," by Chris Tomlin and "Shoulders" by For King and Country. Our 7th grade class is full of musically gifted students, so their performance was outstanding.
Ecumenical Cross Walk
In conjunction with neighboring parishes Grove Presbyterian Church and Grace United Methodist Church, St. Joan of Arc Church participated in a moving procession of the Cross, pausing to reflect upon the Stations and singing “Were You There?” Even Frank chimed in with “Tremble, tremble, tremble…” from the stroller. Over 100 people participated. We shared a light lunch in the SJA parish hall afterwards. It was a nice time to get to know other followers of Christ.
I haven’t been taking both Frank (3) and Leo (2) to Mass, but on Easter, our whole family celebrated Jesus’ victory over death. Even more exciting was seeing so many of my students and their families. I think even Frank and Leo could sense the excitement in the air. I wish I’d taken a picture of all of us outside of church, but here’s a nice family photo from my aunt’s house, where we gathered with our loved ones to celebrate our faith.
March 28, 2016 12:51
By Robyn Barberry
It’s been almost two years since we learned that Frank has significant language and social developmental delays. But, we have chosen to delay slapping a label on him. Is he autistic? Does he have ADHD? Is it an auditory processing disorder? Maybe it’s one of those things. Maybe it’s all of those things. Maybe it’s none of those things.
What we do know is that Frank experiences the world differently than most three-year-olds. He’s shy. He’s quiet. He doesn’t always understand what we’re telling him or asking him. He seldom participates in group activities, choosing instead to play by himself, by his own rules. He can solve sixty-piece puzzles in mere minutes. He carries an apple everywhere he goes. He can't take big crowds, loud noises, and lighting that is too bright or too dark. He needs to be held in a human vice to fall asleep. He has a burning desire to explore and investigate everything. In fact, I call him “Curious Frank” after his favorite storybook character, Curious George.
The progress he’s made in two years with the help of a very special team of teachers and therapists is incredible. He makes more eye contact. He has hundreds of words (he can spell over thirty of them).
I made a video of him singing "Happy Birthday" to his godfather the other day. To my delight, he’s recently developed a love for painting and listening to stories. "Let's make art," is my favorite thing he says.
Most of the time, he asks for things rather than devising elaborate and dangerous plans to procure them himself. I’m not petrified of venturing out into public and having him run away from me anymore (though I can’t take my eyes off of him at the playground). He attends a wonderful Christian preschool with patient and kind teachers who adore and protect him. He has even made a few friends. He voluntarily goes to Mass, points at the risen Christ above our altar and says, “Jesus is everywhere.”
After much deliberation, Patrick and I decided to send Frank to St. Joan of Arc for preschool next year. Our four-year-old program is a rigorous five-day-a-week, all day experience, which is exactly what Frank needs to grow socially and academically. The Pre-K teacher and her assistant have created a nurturing, structured environment that will provide Frank with a safe, challenging, and exciting place to learn. I could not think of more capable hands to trust him with. (And I hear the art teacher/librarian is nice.)
Some days, I second guess myself. We enrolled Frank in a multi-sports program for preschoolers at our gym. When I took him to his first session on Tuesday, I watched for a couple of minutes to see what he would do. I used to think that I needed to include a preface every time I introduced Frank to someone new to explain why he doesn’t talk, listen, and behave like most three-year-olds, but I’ve decided to wait until someone needs to know about Frank’s differences.
A few minutes into the class, the dozen or so other kids were lined up and kicking their soccer balls toward the goal. Frank picked up his ball and ran around on the other side of the gym. When the teacher called after him and he didn’t respond, I interjected.
“Frank has some developmental delays, so he might not always understand you the first time,” I said.
“Oh, then, I’ll just leave him alone and let him do what he wants,” she said.
Her response frustrated me. I put him in the class because I wanted him to learn some social skills. “All he needs is your patience,” I said. By the end of class, he was participating with the other kids. Sometimes, he just needs time to explore.
In a few weeks, Frank will visit SJA’s preschool to get to know his teachers, his classroom, his routine, and some friends who are headed to kindergarten. We will develop an Individualized Education Plan (or IEP) with his special education team so that he has the resources he needs to learn in his unique way. I can’t wait to watch him grow at SJA and will continue to pray every day that Frank can develop the social and communication skills he needs to make his dreams come true.
March 13, 2016 04:28
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By Robyn Barberry