Sunday, June 1, 2014

3 years down.

I just wrapped up my third and most exciting year of teaching.  This school year flew by!  I had many opportunities to represent my students and school in our community and abroad.  Just today a fantastic article on the school district I work for was on the front page of our local paper, The Yuma Sun.  It features myself and some of my students.  Check out the article here:

District One Offers A Variety of Services for Special Needs Students

Just another day in Room N.
This year I was nominated for Arizona Teacher of the Year, but turned it down because I don't have the experience to go up against the many well deserving others, and I had so much on my plate, that I couldn't have possibly given it 100%.  It was a gamble, but I'm not in this for the awards, I'm in it for kids like this sweet girl.  By the end of this school year she was out of her wheel chair standing/walking  (with assistance). How's that for an award!?

We wrapped up our Science unit of "Exploring Change" by playing with food coloring and mixing them together to see what other colors we could come up with.

To me, there are many challenges and difficulties with teaching students with special needs.  By far, the hardest one is saying goodbye.  Two of my students will not be returning next school year.  One of them I have had all three years, and the other for two years.  Aging out and moving up are best for the students, but a rough transition for those of us that have grown attached to them.

Judah had one of his best years as he began his first year of 1st grade.  It wasn't without trials in the beginning.  I came close to exacting some street justice on a teacher.  Thankfully they found the door first.  Once we got Judah in the right hands, we found one of the best and most loving teachers for him. 

Ms. Loose loved my boy about as much as someone outside of family could.
It's crucial, as parents, to make sure that we put our kids with special needs with someone who "wants" to teach them.  The reality is, you cannot force someone to love or even like your kid.  I know that sounds like common sense, but we think "how can you not love this kid?".  They're out there.  Don't waste your time.  I regret giving Judah's first teacher this year a "chance".  Even with me working at the same school.  If you can't cooperate and collaborate with me, you're screwed.

Judah did two years of kindergarten and just completed first grade in a general education classroom with resource support.  We have decided that we will put him in first grade again next year.  He'll be back with the amazing Ms. Loose.  My girls don't get much attention on this blog, but they sure do in real life.  My baby girl graduated kindergarten and will join Judah in first grade next school year.

My sweet Aveline and I.
 Cheers to another school year gone by!  I have to stay fresh and change things up for next school year! I'll be spending a much needed summer break recharging, visiting family, getting healthier, and most of all spending time with my wife and kids.

Teach. Advocate. Include.  

Stay humble. Stay smart. Keep moving.

Since being named the 2013 Yuma County Teacher of the Year, these past 14 months have been a whirlwind of activity for me.  This town is very serious about it's pageantry!  That's taken some getting used to, but I have no reason to puff up.  Everything I do, I would be doing without the notoriety anyway.  

I'm humble enough to know that I'm not better than anyone, and wise enough to know that I'm different than the rest.

You can look all over this blog and it should be evident right away that aside from documenting my own history with all of this, I do it to advocate.  I do it to bring a sense of balance to this crazy world from my little corner of it.  To show that life isn't "perfect" or "just so".  To expose my happy and exciting life despite what others might think of as trials or misfortune.

I know my path was laid out just the way it is.  It's like God decided to take an older tattooed hardcore/punk skateboarder, give him a kid with Down syndrome, send him to college to become a teacher, then unleash him on the education system.  This is what you get!

Judah is on my shoulders helping me yell at people on stage with the hardcore band I sing for.

I've tried to make this blog as little about myself and much more about my son and the awesome kids/people with special needs that I get to work with.  Over this past year some rad photographers have captured some pretty cool shots and put them out there for others to see.  I am eternally grateful for two things: 1) I've got some great pictures of my little dude and I, and 2) these were shown outside of digital mediums in print, ads, billboards, etc. for others to be exposed to what we do. Thank you!

Look at me mom! I'm distinguished!

Special Olympics Arizona, River Area, Yuma

I have had some great opportunities and accolades as a special educator here in Yuma.  One of those is Special Olympics.  Shortly after Judah was born, I knew that I wanted to be involved with Special Olympics at some point.  Early on, I quickly discovered that it was geared more towards teenagers and adults with special needs.  So I put the idea in the back of mind as something to re-visit down the road as Judah got older.

Right around the time of the whole teacher of the year thing, I took my class to the 2013 Young Athletes Day here in Yuma.  There's a picture-filled post about it on this blog.  I was so impressed that there was finally something for the young kids in Special Olympics.

One thing led to another and by last summer I found myself on our local Special Olympics leadership committee.  Other things started coming together and I introduced the Young Athletes program into my classroom weekly this past school year.  Eventually I found myself helping plan this years Young Athletes Day AND coaching basketball for adults.  Additionally, I found out that Judah could compete as a track & field athlete in the Arizona Summer Games.

Coaching basketball was a new experience for me.  I've coached before, but never for people with special needs.  I had a blast and learned so much.  It was a great experience to teach the little guys during the day, then coach the big guys in the evening.  They worked very hard and went undefeated the whole season.  We won gold at our regional tournament in Mojave Valley, then went on to win the gold at the State Tournament in Phoenix.  These tournaments are fairly similar to any other tournament basketball heads might be familiar with.  It was split up in different ability brackets.  Teams advanced or phased out based on wins and eliminations.  It is legitimate competition (based on ability), and my team mopped the floor.  I was very proud of them!  They earned every bit of it!

2014 Regional and State Champs.
I had a little hand in helping organize this years Young Athletes Day here in Yuma.  This is such a great experience for the little guys to get outside and be active.  Wherever you are, look up your local Special Olympics and find out how you and/or your child can get involved in this.

Judah getting down at Young Athletes Day 2014.

Young Athletes Day 2014.
Having Judah participate in track & field was great for both of us.  To my surprise, he actually enjoys running and throwing softballs.  This was obviously our first year for everything "Special Olympics" so the 2014 Arizona Summer Games was a whole new experience for us.  It was very well run and executed with amazing volunteers.  This year the summer games were held at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.

Judah ran the 50 meter dash in his category and won bronze.  He came in last place in the softball throw.  You can't win them all, but we sure know what to work on for next year.

Judah on the platform to receive his first medal.

Judah gearing up for the softball throw.

The softball throw.

Needless to say, we're hooked! The excitement, energy, and camaraderie in Special Olympics is truly contagious! Catch it!