Saturday, March 1, 2014

Years 23 to 34: Education Specialist for Spokane Public Schools: 2004; Hitting my Stride

By 2004 certain aspects of my education specialist role started to change and solidify. For one, the other ed specialists were thrilled by my early childhood background and petitioned to have me be the support person for all of the preschool programs. This suited me just fine! I loved working with the preschool programs and teachers, and was energized by all of the different programs and support staff I had the privilege to work with. This was the first time I had the opportunity to work with integrated early childhood programs. Spokane's CAPE programs integrated preschoolers with special needs into Head Start programs. These programs were and are excellent examples of what early childhood should look like. Strong beliefs in learning by doing, family style meals, homey features in the classroom, and social workers to help support families. I learned a lot from these programs. I also worked closely with the Head Start support staff to expand their knowledge of special education and how to provide programming for students with behavior concerns. We worked well together, providing many programs with professional development on topics like Behavior as Communication, the McDonald ECO model, and autism just to name a few. So it was a big surprise and honor for me in February of 2004 to be awarded Early Childhood Professional of the Year by the Eastern Washington Association for the Education of Young Children (EWAEYC), our local affiliation of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). To this day, the letter and plaque I received hang in my office at home. I will cherish these forever.

The other aspect of my job that began to become more important was working with assistive technology. So many of our young children with disabilities struggled with communication and having the ability to really be a part of their peers' worlds. By 2004,we had two people in our district hired to find, adapt, and try out systems to help support all of these students. John and Carmen are amazing technology geniuses! And this year, John wrote a grant that raised enough money to send several support staff to the largest assistive technology conference in the states. This conference, Closing the Gap, takes place in Minnesota every October. This was such a great experience! I had a chance to see Linda Burkhart, one of the most amazing teachers to ever work in our field. The devices and switches she designed to help children become more a part of the non disabled world took my breath away. She has the most stunning before and after videos of children with and without the technology to support them. Seeing children without technology sit and do nothing and then to see them moving through their environment,  greeting people with voice output devices, and actually doing some jobs; well it's hard to put that into adequate words.

Now the other reason I was so happy to be going to Minnesota that October, was to  get a chance to go and see the Prairie Home Companion store in the Mall of America. Those of you that know me well, know that Garrison Keillor is one of my heroes. I started listening to these radio programs in 1976, doing my lesson plans for the week as it played in the background. So one night, Melany S., an SLP who came on this trip with me, and I went to the Prairie Home Companion store. I knew that we wouldn't still be in Minnesota on Saturday for the live broadcast, but thought it would be fun to go and see what was in the store. As we browsed and I found some things to buy, I told the clerk that I was sad not to still be in town for the live broadcast. She said, "Well you know that they do a dress rehearsal on Friday nights don't you? There may still be some tickets available." WHAT?! Oh, I was so going!

That Friday Melany, Heidi, and I got in a taxi and went to the Fitzgerald Theater to see the dress rehearsal. We sat on the stage in back of the action as those were the only seats left. I had such a great time! Singing the familiar songs like the Powdermilk Biscuit theme, marveling at the sound effects guy, and listening to Garrison's monologue. WOW! I couldn't believe our luck! The other ladies that came along didn't really know much about Prairie Home Companion, but they enjoyed watching me! Afterwards as we started to go, we noticed some people gathering down in front of the stage. We walked down there and one of the ushers told us that sometimes Garrison would come out and sign autographs. I asked the other ladies if they would mind waiting to see if he would come out that night. They did not mind. So we waited and little by little, more and more people tired of waiting and left. We were talking to one of the ushers and she said, "It looks like Garrison won't be out tonight. They have too many revisions to do and it is getting late. But if you wait for a few minutes, I can take you back to your hotel so that you won't have to get another taxi." This was incredibly kind and although I was disappointed, I understood. So we walked to the lobby to wait. I struck up a conversation with Garrison's sister and as we chatted, I noticed Melany going up to different ushers and theater people and talking, gesturing, and then they would shake their heads, and off she would go to someone else. I thought this was strange, but kept chatting and then all of a sudden, everybody got quiet. I stopped talking and turned around. OMG! It was Garrison himself! I was speechless, truly speechless! He said, "Well hello there young lady! Someone has been telling me that you've been listening to this program for about 30 years. I just thought I would come out and thank you." That's what Melany had been saying to all of these different people! And finally someone went back and persuaded Garrison to take a few minutes and meet us. I am forever indebted to Melany! This was one of my biggest thrills ever. We all chatted for about fifteen minutes and he signed my program. After that we piled into the usher's car for a somewhat scarey ride back to the hotel (this involved the driver going the wrong way on a one way street and having very dim headlights!) However, we made it back in one piece and went to have a glass of wine to celebrate! Good times!