Jessie took her first college course last year. Having opted not to attend a segregated program for students with intellectual disabilities at the college (there is no inclusive program here), she decided, upon leaving high school, to focus on dance and take a few courses to see what kinds of things she was interested in. Of course, she’s interested in everything—from music recording to physics to fashion design—with the flavour of study changing about as quickly as her clothes (read: at least 3 times a day, that’s why she does her own laundry).
The last time I blogged about that course—Introduction to Public Relations—we were uncertain as to the outcome, at least in terms of her mark. We had already determined that the outcome in terms of connection (with peers, a mentor, people in the field) and learning was pretty fine. But as for her actual grade? Still a great deal of uncertainty. The whole course was largely test-based and the only accommodations Jessie had were the use of a computer and time and half. She bombed the first three tests (all the questions she answered, she answered well; but the ones she didn’t answer counted for more than half the test), scoring just under 50 %. She was devastated, but also knew that she aced all her assignments and loved the interaction in class.
So. She decided that she wanted to continue, even if she didn’t pass the course, and we would use it as a test (sic) case for determining what worked and what didn’t. We were also fairly certain that we could work with the instructor (an experienced and well-respected PR professional in the city) to make suggestions for future accommodations that would meet Jessie’s needs without major changes in course expectations.
Our goal, at least for her first course, was to go in slightly under the radar, working with the most basic accommodations offered by the college and without ruffling any feathers or making even “reasonable” demands. We wanted to see how Jessie negotiated the class; find out what her natural inclinations, talents, and challenges were without us intervening too much. After all, we were in the thick of transition, switching gears and making her responsible not only for driving (we’d help her with the map if she asked), but also for filling the engine up with gas. No more parental determining what and when to study or prepare for the course—that was now up to her. And we (read I, I with an old biker jacket with Mom From Hell emblazoned across the back stuffed in the back of the closet, where I wanted it to remain for a while longer) did not want to push the college until we knew that Jessie was motivated and would follow through to the best of her ability.
As we moved towards the final exam, we realized that there was a lot on the line. Jessie had to pass with at least a 75 to pass the course. Could she do it? This is where the instructor stepped in and suggested that Jessie write the test along with another student (whose first language was not English) in the room next door, so she could ask the instructor any questions that might help her target her answers. Jessie studied. Hard. She wrote the test. She came out beaming because she knew that she had answered all the questions; being able to ask for clarification helped a lot. And then we had to wait. And wait. And wait. For the final mark.
Which, when it came in, was a solid B–! Which, when we thought about it, meant she did really well on the final exam. Which, when we asked the instructor, she did! She actually got a 92 and the second highest mark in the class! Whoee Jess! We had some cake that night!
But for me, and I think for Jessie as she moves forward, the icing on said cake was the delightful letter she received from the instructor after the course was over. A full and beautifully written page of appreciation (for her contribution to the class), of thanks (for the privilege of being her first college teacher), and of advice (for growing in the world). It was a wonderfully wise and encouraging letter. One that I think shows, once again, just how blessed we are to have Jessie lead us to these inspiring and wonderful individuals. While I could easily tell you our war stories and regale you with the downright insensitive and litigious things people have said or done to Jessie (yes, there are many of those stories), what I have loved about our journey into community are the people we have met who have embraced us, been willing to struggle with us to find solutions, changed our way of thinking, and shown us how to be better people.
So I will give Jessie’s instructor the last word, with her last words:
My warmest wishes to you, Jessie, as you dance forward in life. I know it can be confusing at times. I know that you will always have more questions than answers—that is true of all of us. I know that you will never get yourself or the world figured out—none of us do. But celebrate the wonder and the confusion of life. Being alive is not a destination; it’s a place on a moving bus. And if you have family and friends on the bus who share your life and your values and your beliefs, who share the laughter and the worries and the sorrows, you know your trip will be memorable.