Owen and Ben's Journey Through Autism

Owen and Ben's Journey Through Autism

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I clapped out loud .. and was one in 4 that did it.

For months now, I have been reading about my former high school closing, I went to Thorold Secondary School, in Thorold. TSS is our only high school left in the small city of Thorold, as the Catholic School Board took it's only high school in Thorold in the year 2000. I was in grade 9 when that happened - I remember the heartbreak and the devastation to our community, and it appears Thorold is going to go through it all again.

Meetings have been held at Kernahan park for the past months, meeting on Thursday evenings for the DSBN, trustees, and representatives to outline different suggestions, like closing Thorold High, closing West Park (St. Catharines), closing Collegiate (St. Catharines) and closing Sir Winston (St. Catharines).. or move one school here, another there - this program here and that there.

I wanted to attend tonight, to speak on my schools behalf. I walked into the gym at Kernahan Park in St. Catharines, to a sea of purple and gold for Thorold, then on the opposite side a sea of green for WestPark. I sat with 2 former graduates and friends of mine, and we awaited for our names to be called to speak as we listened to current and former students, concerned parents and the community. I said my speech - briefly also mentioned that if not for my experience at Thorold Secondary, I would have never discovered my love for drama and public speaking and encouraged to my full potential to use this gift, which now I am so thankful for being a mother to 2 sons with Autism, I speak on their behalf as an advocate, and my compassion I use daily as a Support Worker. I finished my speech, was given a beautiful applause, and I sat and listened to others.

Its truly remarkable, after Owen was diagnosed and now Ben, how my whole outlook and preception on life and what matters changed, and I still am blown away when it hits me at different times. This time it was a woman, one of 2 people, that spoke onbehalf of Kernahan Park Secondary School. Brief History - Kernahan Park is located off of Bunting Rd, in St. Catharines. It is a very, "hands-on" school, and has always been known to be the school that will assist Special Needs people. After listening to this woman tonight, she stated that 75% of students at Kernahan have legit Special Needs, compared to Thorold which only has 15%, and Sir Winston who ONLY has 6% of its population as Special Needs...and closing this school and putting these people in crowded larger schools, they will fall through the cracks - I know this to be true as even only having Owen in JK and the 3 ring circus show I went through for him to get full day EA Support in his public school - I believe her, because we know all too well what can happen.

As she is stating these facts about this school, that has the well-equipped teachers to handle different needs, these children fit in, there are more options - my heart instantly melted. I got a few looks from a man and his wife across from us when I was shaking my head in agreement with what the woman said as she was right, and they looked at me and smiled and nodded as well - they knew she was, and now the whole gymnasium knew I had 2 special needs boys. No one was standing up for this school, everyone was more concerned for moving a French Immersion program from Sir Winston, when did French Immersion become more important then actual students, and especially ones with disabilities? I thought of my boys - If need be, I would send them to Kernahan in a heartbeat, but now since it is closing, they wont even have the option. My boys will be going to a large high school, trying to fit in to a place that maybe might not be made for them, but we have no other option. In St. Catharines, at St. Catharines Collegiate, they offer a Special Needs program, in the BASEMENT of the school - no windows, nothing - in a basement. The Board buses children from the Niagara Falls even, to go to this program, is this the option we have as Special Needs Parents? Over my dead body.

As the woman concluded her speech, and her verbal fight for the Special Needs focused High school to stay open - I clapped, and I clapped hard. I truly think I heard maybe 4 other people, and it is ignorance they have no clue what they are doing to our society where Autism, Downs Syndrome and everything in between is more and more prevalent every year, as statistics have shown. Yes, I went there tonight as a former graduate of TSS for my hometown and my community, but I was also there and moved for a high school that helps so much and gives students who require more help a fighting chance - and it is sad that I was one of the few that clapped for her..and my heart broke.

People like her, show me that we will always be fighting the good fight for our Special Needs Community, and I am ready.



  1. It was a tough meeting that was for sure. Sadly the ARC decision to recommend two plans has fostered the attitude of US v. THEM as it pertains to Thorold and West Park. So there is almost a small amount of shock when someone speaks out for Kernahan Park (because, your school is closing regardless). I went into last nights meeting focused solely on the fact that Thorold needed to stay open, but left thinking that closing any of these three schools would be the wrong move, especially a school which does so much good for those students with Special Needs.

    I also know through a close friends fiance who spent time teaching the Special Needs course at Collegiate that the program is one which is almost an after thought and it's only since Janice Fralick (former Math teacher at TSS) took over as the department head (and by took over apparently she was handed it and told it was hers), that there's been any attempt at changing the program from just an after thought. How the program is doing this year I couldn't tell you as he has been transferred to an opening at Secord.

    It was interesting reading the Sub-Standard article on line last night. They picked out some great quotes. But much like you I thought what about the quote 75% of Kernahan students have Special Needs, of all the statistics bandied about last night by partisan speakers they lady speaking for Kernahan were the only ones I took seriously. Sadly accurate stats don't seem to make good copy when it comes to promoting the US v THEM attitude given the title of the article "Communities at odds over school closures".

    While I was one of those in the minority who applauded the speech given by that lady, I couldn't help thinking that I should have been louder in my applause until I got home and took stock of everything which occurred last night.

    Keep on fighting the good fight Vanessa. Last night showed your the ideal person for it!


  2. Thank you Richard, and you are so right. I am proud that I heard you being one of the few clapping for her. Like you said, I think a lot of people left last night different than how they came to the metting. I, like you - left very saddened that non of these schools should close, who's right and who's wrong?

    Again, the hardest thing for me last night was listening to that woman speak, when she knows she looses in what ever option they choose as Kernahan will be closing - yet she stood up for all those special needs children that now will have to face a whole new world of challenges. Will the school they go to be well equipped for them and their needs, will the teachers be the type to go above and beyond and adapt their teaching styles for the betterment for these children, will bullying rates go higher? It scares me, and it bothered me when I got home and began to collect all my thoughts that the Board was more concerned about moving French Im Program than the betterment of these children with disabilites?

    Sad isn't it?