Going to a new school can be hard for any child. You have to get used to a new building, new teachers and make new friends. For Kherrigan, the transition also included going from a small country school in Abbotsford, to a much larger city school in Chilliwack. This transition has been compounded by the fact that Kherrigan lives with complex care needs. She does not sleep, is non-verbal and has 2- dimensional vision, which means navigating a new space is very difficult.
Kherrigan’s mom, Tina knows that her role as a parent means advocating for her daughter and educating others about what it means to have someone different in your midst. Having integrated classrooms is essential to this learning. She is grateful for the teaching staff at Promontory Heights Elementary who are learning how to work with Kherrigan’s needs. She is also grateful that they recognize what Kherrigan brings to the classroom.
“She really is a gift to her classmates and teachers,” she explains. “She’s not there to learn how to read and write, she’s there to learn how to be with others and to help her classmates step out of their comfort zone and include someone different.”
Tina has also had the opportunity to speak to student teachers at Simon Fraser University’s Professional Development Program. She is pleased that new teachers are learning how important it is to have integrated classrooms.
It’s not about the 3Rs, that’s not why she’s there. It’s about relationship, about helping children to learn to think about someone other than themselves. – Tina, Kherrigan’s mom
She gives a wonderful example from Kherrigan’s grade 1 class at South Poplar Elementary in Abbotsford. When it came to celebrating Valentine’s Day, Kherrigan’s teacher knew that she couldn’t have candy. So she gathered the children together to brainstorm other ways that they could include Kherrigan in the day’s festivities. The children came up with all kinds of gift ideas that showed how they had come to know and appreciate their classmate.
“They got her stuffies and cute things for her hair. They gave her bingo dabbers because they knew she enjoyed playing with these. We were overwhelmed,” Tina recalls, adding that it wasn’t about the physical gifts but about inclusion. “Every single child in that class included her. It was phenomenal.”