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Jemelene Wilson

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March 5, 2013
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Jemelene Wilson: Fighting for our children, in the midst of a possible school closure

It's no secret our schools are in a budget crisis. Without serious changes, there won't be money to fund education in our beautiful burg.

For three years, our local school board has been wrestling with consolidation, which sounds nicer than school closure but, really, a school would close. In prior discussions, two schools were mentioned exclusively. At a recent board meeting, they voted, 4 to 3 that indeed, a school would be closing. The surprise was adding two new schools to the chopping block.

Last Wednesday evening, the public was invited to an open meeting.

Armed with my single page, 14-pt., single-spaced, written plea, I entered the middle school gymnasium. There were four distinct sections of supporters decked out in school colors, some holding hot pink poster boards but all holding concern in their faces.

I spotted my daughter's principal standing in the back with other staff. As I joined them, another parent arrived and we waited for the public comment portion. We decided to sit together as we fought for the needs of our children, something we do everyday to one degree or another.

We don't often have to do it publicly.

When it was time to speak, we took our place in line. As one speaker began, I struggled with her words. She was there in support of another school but started by speaking up for “those children” with special needs. She repeatedly spoke of “those children” as my cringe meter went off. I struggled every time she emphasized “those children” as if my daughter doesn't stand out enough on our own.

As I started to lean toward being irritated, I remembered my own words from last week. I had to make it about her heart. The intent was there even if the words seemed clumsy. She was supporting our school from the outside when her own school was in jeopardy. My irritation turned to gratitude as I realized that even those not involved with the special needs community see the value of our school.

When it was our turn, we took our chairs and I leaned into the microphone. As I began reading my own words, the thoughts about how valuable my Allison is, my voice got shaky and I choked up. I couldn't help it, the beauty of my daughter overtakes my emotions at times, even at a school board meeting.

Here is part of what I said:

"My daughter Allison has been a student at Fir Grove since kindergarten. Her campus is uniquely designed to not only handle wheelchairs but for those whose mobility is unstable. For the past few years, Allison has been learning how to walk. Her big accomplishments have been met by the thunderous applause of her peers when she walked (with help) all the way to the fourth grade classroom. This is even better than ADA requirements.

"The Complex Needs Classroom and Developmental Learning Center are next to typical classrooms at Fir Grove. These unique programs are not tucked away out of sight. When we talk to our children to accept every person no matter how different, the students of Fir Grove live it every day.

"This may not fall under the category of academic achievement, but it does fall into line with building a more productive community. You see, at first glance, Allison might take more than she gives. Some may look at her and believe that she doesn't contribute to society, but I urge you to look again.

"Allison teaches perseverance. She teaches that life is not fair, but it is still worth doing your best and trying your hardest. Value doesn't come from tremendous abilities but the courage to use the abilities you have.

"At Fir Grove, Allison and her peers in all classrooms have the environment to flourish. Fir Grove is a flat, compact campus that does not need to be retrofitted to meet safety and ADA standards. The amount of funds to bring another campus to the same standards would have to be considered in moving the students from their current school.

"Those things that have been discovered through trial and error have all been addressed. Fir Grove is physically safe for our most vulnerable students. This school provides an opportunity for typical students to learn lessons of life in a way books alone never will."

My friend shared straight from her heart about her daughter and how she had toured every school in the district. There was no other option for her child either.

Several parents, teachers and concerned citizens approached the microphone to plea with the board not to close their school. Each person made valid arguments on behalf of the children and sometimes staff.

One parent from a school that has been on the list for three years turned to the crowd and asked the question, “Where were you when it wasn't your school?” He went on to say how they had been fighting this for three years with very little attention until other schools showed up on the list.

As I had prepared my comments that day and read them in front of the large crowd, I found out something about myself. I had been taking my daughter's school for granted. These beautiful things about her peers, teachers and therapists had been allowed to fall into the background of our lives. The work that has been done over the years to provide a safe environment so each student can reach a potential that many dared not hope for had almost been forgotten. When threatened with the possibility of losing it, at worst, or starting over, at best, we take notice.

So I'm asking myself, where am I in all of this? What is my responsibility to the other schools that face closure? Am I to only speak up for my own?

Our school board has the unenviable position of deciding how to navigate through a budget crisis where there is no end in sight. It will take the wisdom of Solomon to decide how to walk through this and do the least harm. Even with last-ditch efforts to energize the community, some loss is inevitable.

With that loss, there is always a chance to grow, to learn and to come together as a community. At least, we can always hope.

Jemelene Wilson is married with two daughters and a son-in-law. Read her Tuesdays on Douglas County Moms. Also check out her personal blog here.

So I\'m asking myself, where am I in all of this? What is my responsibility to the other schools that face closure? Am I to only speak up for my own?

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The News-Review Updated Nov 18, 2013 07:30PM Published Mar 14, 2013 08:29AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.