Friday, May 15, 2015

One teacher can change the world.

My triplets will graduate from high school one week from today. One week. And though as I sit here, I KNOW that they have successfully completed their work for high school; and I KNOW they have scored high enough on the SAT to not only gain college entrance but to also receive scholarship, there was a season when not only did I not KNOW if these things were possible, I was almost afraid to even dream them.

And then I met Cindy Ramsdell, a second grade teacher at Aldridge Elementary School in Texas.

Outside Aldridge Elementary School -- Mason, Benjamin and Claire

We moved to the area just in time for the triplets to begin second grade at Aldridge. I didn't know anything about the school, the teachers or even the area when we pulled into that parking lot on the first day, but Mrs. Ramsdell's smile alone assured me she was going to be a good fit for my Benjamin.

Mrs. Ramsdell spent less than a week with my son before she asked to speak with me. "Benjamin gets along very well with adults," she said as I nodded in agreement. "I want to see him interact more often with his peers this year."

I was in agreement but frankly had my doubts she could pull it off. The nature of Benjamin's disability required a swarm of adult caregivers circling him in those days -- a paraprofessional who scribed his work; a physical therapist who pulled him out at least once a week for therapy; an occupational therapist who did the same; a special PE instructor who worked with him during PE time....and so on. How in the world was she going to implement her goals for Benjamin?

I should not have wondered. Her smile and diminutive size did not speak to the ferocity of this teacher. Mrs. Ramsdell started by rearranging her classroom so that Benjamin was surrounded by his peers -- not sitting in a corner at a special desk. She brought in the maintenance staff to adapt his desk so that the re-aarangement still worked for him.

Then she did this extraordinary out-of-the-box thing -- she kicked all of the adult helpers out of her classroom. Kicked them out. It was a bold move to be sure. One that might very well only have worked for second grade -- but work it did! If her students finished their work early, they were rewarded by getting to be Benjamin's secretary. Please don't miss that. She rewarded her hardest working students by allowing them to scribe for my son who could not write for himself. Within two weeks, Benjamin was being invited for playdates at the homes of these new friends, friends that 10 years and two states away, he still connects with regularly!

I could write for days about the ways Cindy Ramsdell changed her classroom to accommodate my son -- she brought in a computer just for him, she changed the timing of his favorite subjects so that he would not miss them during the required Physical and Occupational therapy time each week. She went over and beyond so that Benjamin would understand the value she placed on him as part of her class.

And though I was far beyond second grade in my schooling, this teacher taught me so much. She valued my son. She saw enormous potential that though challenged by his physical struggles was NOT squelched by them. She taught me to not only dream big things for Benjamin but to EXPECT them! She showed me that I was not alone he thinking he was smart. She confirmed that he was smart, really smart and taught me how to help him get his ideas onto paper. She changed our expectations for our incredible boy.

Playing soccer with his friends in Texas.

Today, Mrs. Ramsdell sent Benjamin a beautiful graduation card. He shared it with me -- and I read how she knew how extraordinary he was within days of his rolling into her classroom. She encouraged his dreams and  once again spurred him to aim high.

With tears rolling down my face, I once again -- for probably the millionth time in 10 years -- gave thanks for the life of this second grade teacher. I gave thanks for this woman who has dedicated her life to bettering the lives of not just my son, but of hundreds of young people who are no doubt better for having had this teacher believe in them and push them toward their dreams.

Thank you, Mrs. Ramsdell, for believing, for encouraging, for being a teacher setting the bar high for teachers everywhere! We are grateful that you remain in Benjamin's cheering section! He is going to keep us on our feet cheering wildly -- thanks to you we know THAT!!

Carol - The Blessings Counter