I was given a miraculous gift three years ago, when my friend encouraged me to look into the Hanby Magnet Lottery and Cassidy was picked. I suppose someone could say it was luck, but I say it was answered prayer to my pleas for direction with my daughter. With her debilitating asthma, I was at a crossroads in how to care for my child and give her the education she deserves. I explored home schooling, private schools, and continuing in her community school. I know my daughter needed extra care for her asthma, and I worried that her medical issues would impair her academic journey into grade school. I walked forward fearing the reality of having to let go of her and entrust her life to others all day. Kindergarten was easy- I could stand a few hours of anxiety…but now I was facing full day school and that terrified me.
I remember so vividly the first few weeks of Cassidy’s first grade school year. I was anticipating her first asthmatic flare up, praying she would stay well for at least the first month of school. But with Cassidy, I learned through every turn that what I wish for and pray for, seems to unravel into what I call the “paradoxical storm”… my greatest fear somehow unfolds into something bigger and scarier than I ever would have imagined.
Two weeks after entering this new school, my six-year old who was just learning where the bathroom was and what her teacher’s name was, not knowing a soul in this big new world of first grade… got sick. Full throttle asthmatic flare ensued. With Cassidy, her asthma blows into an earth shaking unending coughing (often to vomiting)…without end. The kind of thing you would hear and immediately run to the child in horror and call 911. But with Cass, she has lived it since infancy and knows it all too well. She lives the torture for weeks on end….no sleep and constant eruptions from within. Capillaries bursting in her face, raspy voice and face swollen from steroids were many features of my precious girl’s pictures through the years.
So there we were… “in it”. No warm up time, no finding our comfort zone, no getting to learn names of teachers and educating the clinician of the medicines and nebulizer treatments that must be given. No preparation or discussion about intervention and coping with this awful ailment. The teachers had my daughter in their hands, and they were forced to cope and care for her all day. I hated to leave her in their hands. In anyone’s hands. Only my hands were capable and acceptable. My hands.
It was a rough beginning to our new scary world. I helped give the treatments with the clinician who needed assistance, I talked with Cassidy’s teacher and feverishly checked in on how she was doing. When I wasn’t at school, I was in turmoil wondering how my baby was holding up….Was she throwing up? Were kids scared of her? Did the teachers look at her in terror? Was she scared? Did she need more medicine? Can they take care of her??? I was grasping on to God for strength and begging Him to care for my baby when I couldn’t be there.
As our life has dictated since she was born, we go through all the motions of a chronically sick child: seeing specialists and endless doctor appointments, procedures, tests, and medicine that is beyond anything a child should have to endure. I desperately tried to make this awful beast go away that had held my daughter captive for too long. But it still grabbed her by the throat and strangled the will and hope out of both of us. The monster would continue to keep us hostage for years to come…
We survived it every day at home in our own desperate way, but now she was in a school all day and I hated the idea of the impact her sickness had on other kids and the teachers. Her violent coughing episodes could echo down the halls and through the corridors of the school. My angst battled between her experience, and those she was affecting. Crisis was what we lived, but now we shared this awful trauma with others and that filled my heart with such turmoil and questioning, I just wanted to grab my daughter and run away….
As I look back on those first days at Hanby, I constantly re-live the remarkable moments that gave me faith in believing that this school was perfect for my daughter to grow and learn and thrive in her creative and unique ways. I vividly recall the principal of Hanby, Dr. Jan Fedorenko, running out of her office with that terrified ‘what is happening to one of my kids?’ look….as she saw my daughter hunched over choking and coughing so violently out of control, she couldn’t get air. I immediately did what I do countless times a day… explain and try to beg for acceptance. Dr. Fedorenko immediately responded with exactly what I always search for and rarely ever receive…
Two weeks of counting sleepless nights and fearful days, I approach Dr. Federenko’s office with jumbled nerves and stifled whimpering, unsure of what I am actually going to say…but knowing I need to acknowledge the hell I have put everyone through by allowing my daughter to come to this amazing school. After two straight weeks of this, I decided it was time to offer options to the school as I struggled to accept the reality that this was not working.
Dr. Fedorenko looked up at me from her desk. I tentatively whispered if I could talk with her, as she nodded me in. I started to present options and acknowledge the devastating affect Cassidy has had on the school. I started to cry. She threw me a tissue and said something that to this day has empowered me to persevere each and every day since then. She spoke with confidence and clarity,
“We will find a way to make it work here. We can and we will.”
And with those words came the launch of three years of the most powerful education and priceless experience I could have ever dreamed for my child. She made it work with her understanding, support, and patience in helping Cassidy grow in every way possible. I couldn’t be more grateful for such a strong and dedicated Principal.
If it were not for our first grade teacher, Mrs. Pam Schira, I don’t think I would have survived the first year. Not only did this amazing, seasoned teacher lay out the foundations of Cassidy’s educational path in the most efficient way possible, but she also cared for and persevered through the medical issues with hardly a twitch from her brow. Her strength and stability were anchors for my whirlwind existence. She was a pillar of respect and authority for the students, giving them the direction and structure they needed. Mrs. Schira stands in high honor as my greatest and most dignified academic and personal hero. To this day, I cherish our friendship that was created that year and I know it will continue for years to come. Not only did she teach my daughter many valuable lessons, but also through her, I learned that God places the perfect people in your life at each turn.
Through Cassidy’s second year, the same chronic asthmatic issue rose up relentlessly, echoing fiercely throughout the classroom, unyielding to instruction and discipline. Ms. Robinson’s gentle voice prevailed and her embrace made the pain less sufferable to both Cassidy and I. Her rare and unique teaching style gave Cassidy an experience that added richness to her life and opened her eyes to a world full of culture and curiosity. The warmth and wonder of the classroom was in the air every day you walked by. A year marked by experiences that added depth to a limited seven-year old world and opened up new adventures into learning.
Third grade gave way to a pursuit that challenged Cassidy’s academic abilities and focus. Still battling her chronic illness and missing school days due to sickness and doctor appointments, procedures and surgeries, Miss Roggenkamp’s diligence and understanding of Cassidy’s ailments and struggle were a blessing to both Cassidy and I. With each new turn, this amazing teacher assisted and encouraged Cassidy to stretch her capacity to learn and built her confidence in doing so.
Through each season of acquiring new concepts and forging challenging material, Cassidy embarked on a journey of education only Miss Roggenkamp could accomplish. The time and energy this teacher gave to Cassidy is undeniably profound and worthy of a great and invested educator. Her dedication to Cassidy’s success and her commitment to Cassidy’s growth has been a testimony to her personal and professional character. I couldn’t be more grateful for the impact she has had on Cassidy’s life this year. As I worried and struggled through many turns, it was Miss Roggenkamp who gave me faith in believing Cassidy would in fact make it through third grade successfully. This year transformed Cassidy into a strong and focused student. I owe that all to Miss Roggenkamp.
I dreadfully say goodbye to these remarkable teachers and principal, and all the other amazing teachers that touched Cassidy’s life in such a profound and powerful way… I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Hanby Magnet school will continue to impact our lives years from now, as we were gifted with treasured teachers whose ability and warmth will resonate in our hearts and minds for a lifetime.