On Fridays, my students and I write for extended time that is uninterrupted. To minimize distractions, I’ve always asked students to think of this time as a “sacred space” in their day. It’s often a throwaway line for me – teacher talk that I’ve used so often that I don’t notice it. Yet, on Friday, I entered a sacred space for real, thanks to a student whose voice called me out of my trance.
In the middle of some leaden sentence, I heard a child shrieking outside in the breezeway. It was jarring because it sounded as if the screamer were under assault. The sound bounced off the courtyard at regular intervals all the way down the long stretch of concrete. But I knew this voice. It’s a voice that’s been in the background of most of my days for over a year. It belongs to a teenaged boy in a wheelchair who has developmental delays and cognitive complications that keep him from speaking. His voice is strong, however, and he definitely communicates – though not with sentences. He shrieks – and really, it is a shriek like something off the moors, three times a day.
I think of his voice as my chime, and much like church bells, he has become a signal for various parts of my day. He always makes me smile, whatever I’m doing, when I hear him. The shriek is one of pure delight, pure joy at being outside, at movement, at freedom to look and listen all around him.
He calls me to remember, always, that public schools exist for students like him. He will never pass a standardized test, never go to college, but that doesn’t mean that his deeply committed teachers in the special education department don’t work to help him increase his knowledge and skills. Within that class, students are trained to shred documents, do laundry services and make trophies, posters and plaques. If certain critics had their way, these opportunities would be closed to students like him.
As I heard his joyful shrieking yesterday, I thought: Without public school, who would accept him as a student? Who would give him that three-times-a-day joyride down the breezeway to look at snow, to dodge the fat squirrels, to feel the wind and sun on his face?
I’m sitting here in our state capitol thinking about him on a Sunday and hoping that as our legislators take up the important educational bills this session, they remember that public schools exist for hardworking and gifted students. But they also exist for refugee students, for students leaving bad choices that landed them in jail, for pregnant girls who are trying to graduate for their baby’s sake, for students who struggle to form sentences on paper and who take seven tries to pass an end-of-course test – and yes, for the boy who calls me to compassion three times a day.
Post title taken from Evidence: Poems by Mary Oliver
“Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.”
Image credit: Pixabay