Both my children started school around the same time. Simon turned five. He had a party at the kohanga with all his friends. It was a short trip to school, just across the playground. He had been quite worried about going to school, the new entrant teacher used to yell at the class. Simon always hated yelling so he wasn’t happy. But as luck would have it, she went on maternity leave a couple of months before his birthday and the new teacher had a much calmer approach to teaching.
His party was great, his Nana, my mum came and he got lots of presents. There was no thought of him going further in Maori studies. He had had enough, visitors always made such of fuss of this little blonde pakeha boy speaking Maori. He was the first boy to move from kohanga to school.There had been older boys at kohanga but they had left kohanga before they started school.
He did cry a little bit on his first day of school but he settled in really quickly. He could read a few simple words and knew his numbers and colours in two languages. His transition was a breeze. He loved school and he loved to learn.
There were the days when kids walked to school on their own. It was such a short walk I was confident that no harm would come to him. One day he late. I got really worried, imagining all kinds of dastardly things had befallen him. So I walked up to the school to see where he was, I found him inn the middle of the field, sitting under the goal post eating his lunch. He hadn’t had time at lunchtime and he was hungry so he spread his jersey on the field and had a picnic.
Suzanne on the other hand was at CDU well past her 12th birthday. It was set up for preschoolers but there was no where else for her to go. Of course, there were not many children like Suzanne in the community, particularly in her age group, as most were institutionalised.
Then the law changed It gave all children the right to attend their local school. Either that or attend a special school for children with disabilities. Special schools had been around for a long time. The special school in Tauranga is called Kaka Street because it is in Kaka Street. The school wasn’t new to me, my sister had attended it when she lived in Tauranga back in the late 60’s. they also had a satellite classroom at Simon’s school.
I really hate the word special.
Prue and I had discussion and decided that the best option for Suzanne was Kaka Street. The other children, she lived with were going to attend as well. I wasn’t happy. My biggest concern was how on earth would a teacher be able to look after her needs and what could she possible learn there that she wasn’t learning at CDU.
Most of the staff were applying for the new jobs at Kaka Street and that eased my fears some what. However as it turned out, none of them were working directly with Suz. Unlike Simon, there was no fanfare when she went to school, One week she was at CDU and the next she was at Kaka Street The good thing was I could visit her often there it was not far away, just a short drive and I was always happy to help out when they needed parental support.
Her new teacher had no experience teaching people with severe disabilities, she was going to do it for a year it would look good on her CV. She did have a couple of teacher aides to help and eventually I got used to the idea of Suzanne being at school. They did the same kinds of things that other schools did, with a theme for each week and she had a range of activities that she hadn’t tried before. This included finger painting, She absolutely hated it. She hated getting her hands wet and sticky, and certainly let people now that she wasn’t impressed. I still have one her paintings. Eventually staff got the message so they didn’t make her do it any more.
She stayed there in the same classroom with mostly the people from her house until she moved to Rotorua, but that as they say is quite another story..