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Why My Granddaughters Sixth Grade Graduation Made Me Cry

Photo by my granddaughter

Published in ChicagoNow, June 15, 2016

I’m sure the family members and guests attending The Cove School graduation and recognition ceremony for students moving from sixth grade to middle school watched with an array of emotions. Joy. Pride. Gratitude. Love. And a bit of trepidation mixed in. Would their child be the one to make a mistake and ruin the ceremony?

No one needed to worry. Like the name implies, Cove School is a safe harbor for children with complex learning disabilities, a place of shelter from the storm of school experiences filled with inappropriate expectations. Cove has been just that for our family, an educational and emotional respite for our granddaughter and her parents after spending several years in the huge stormy seas of a public school system.

When I first visited Cove School with my daughter two years ago, we knew this would be the right place for my granddaughter. Its calm, welcoming, cheerful environment embraced each student as a valued, unique learner. As the founding director of Cherry Preschool in Evanston, I had hoped elementary school would be a continuation of the educational values that had embraced her during her preschool years there: respect for all children, inclusion of everyone in the school community, acceptance and appreciation of differences, valuing cultural and economic diversity, and caring about the welfare of other people’s children.

Our family was seeking a school experience for her in which all children were cherished for their unique personalities, cultures, needs, and learning styles. I was hoping to find another caring community of students, faculty, and families to embrace my granddaughter. Ultimately, she found this community at Cove School. It is no surprise that several children like her, who started in Cherry Preschool’s Inclusion Program, ended up at Cove.

Like most families attending the ceremony, ours had a bit of PTSD from years of inclusion, and sometimes exclusion, at public school. I sat through music assemblies that were too loud for her sensory system, and programs that my granddaughter had to leave because they were too stimulating. There were many events her family didn’t even attempt to attend for fear that she might spoil them and, more importantly, that they would upset her.

At the graduation, the children shared short speeches about what the elementary school meant to them as they were about to begin their middle school years at Cove. They thanked friends, teachers, and parents. Those who were anxious about reading their speeches aloud had recorded them ahead of time. Brilliant. No one had to feel worried or embarrassed. All were included, even a child too shy to come to the podium for the pre-recorded speech. This simple and empathic accommodation allowed every child to participate.

After receiving certificates, the children exited. Most followed the plan they had rehearsed and walked down the aisle to the refreshment room. Some broke ranks in excitement when they saw their families. No one cared. It was all good.

The Cove School has been around for over 65 years. In that time, so many children with special learning needs have received the support, accommodations, and time they needed to “learn, grow and flourish.” As we celebrated my granddaughter and her classmates, the joy and love in that room were palpable.

After many years of sadness attending events at public school that caused great pain for my granddaughter and her family, I cried tears of happiness watching her graduate from sixth grade. I’m so proud of her. And I am feeling beyond grateful for this wonderful school and its amazing administration and faculty. My deepest thanks for making her feel safe and valued in school for the first time in many years.


by Laurie Levy
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