A Good Life

It seems incredible to be saying it, but Claudia has now left school. Forever.

Two kindys and four school later, here’s what I’ve learnt;

1/ Schools are one place where Trickle Down is evident.

Good Principals’ high expectations around inclusion filter down into a gloriously positive staff, happy classrooms, calm school communities, rainbows, unicorns and the whole sha-bang where everyone feels truly valued and real learning and education happens.

Appalling Principals are black holes of agony; blocking joy, happiness and learning at every turn. Their suspicion of difference and fear of “outsiders” having some say over things is especially evident in small towns.. Here we saw conscious exclusion of people who didn’t look or sound the same, of people who had different cultures from the dominant one.

Clusters of unhappy “others” gather in pockets in schools like this, wondering how this school can possibly educate people they fail to accept. The attempts of well meaning staff further down the pecking order made no real difference. There was no trickle up. The tone is set and its impossible to change. That’s when you leave. You can’t change a shark.

2/ We are still – after all these years –  talking about Special Education as opposed to Inclusive Education, even as the people in Special Education are claiming they are all about inclusion.

3/ Inclusive Education benefits all students in the classroom. One more time for people like Michael Laws – ALL children in the classroom. Don’t argue with parents of disabled students on this one. I guarantee we’ve done the research about where our children will do best and this is the answer. The fact that all children do better is an added bonus, don’t you think? People who maintain the fear that disabled children in class suck up all the attention can rest assured, that’s not the case. Not. The. Case. 

4/ Teacher Aids are invaluable additions to the classroom for they not only aid and support the children with disabilities, but they are confidante, assistant, social worker, parent, and Fairy Godparent to the other teachers and students. Having more adults in a classroom to give attention when and where it’s needed is a good thing.

Claudia’s Teacher Aids had such mana within the classroom and provided such excellent extra pastoral support for all the students, Claudia being in the class was seen as a bonus by many parents at her primary school. Win-Win-Win and everyone is Happiness Filled.

5/  It stops. It stops for school holidays and that’s usually a bit of a shock. But one day the holidays will be over and you won’t go back, and many parents try not to think about that time until they have to. Well, we’re here now, and at 19 years old, the time is now for Claudia and it’s stopped for us forever.

So what’s next? Asks everyone.

Not sure, actually. But we’re getting there.

Enabling Good Lives” is a post school opportunity currently available in the Waikato and here in Canterbury. It’s a programme where all the bits and pieces of her financial entitlements and education funding go into a single pot which we then divvy up and spend where we decide her Good Life is. Easy!

Now all we have to do is design A Good Life for Claudia.

So, what does A Good Life look like?

Claudia’s idea of a good life would no doubt be staying home all say ordering cheese toasties for lunch, hanging on her computer and falling asleep in a big hot bath at the end of another taxing day watching You Tube.  My life would be reduced to fulfilling my duties as her personal slave, all day, every day.

My idea of A Good Life for Claudia includes more lofty aspirations like “meaningful engagement with her community” and “broadening and extending her learning through diverse opportunities” and “the opportunity to form and maintain real friendships with her peers in a natural setting”

But what communities? What opportunities? What settings are these?

OK so it seems I just have goals. What I need is actual places and people for Claudia.

It’s a great opportunity – and a huge challenge.

Despite Enabling Good Lives having been rolled out for several years in Canterbury, my experience so far is that providers of experiences, vocational day bases, agencies and trusts are scrambling to be responsive to what people want without committing themselves too much to detail.

For instance, as I’m “shopping” at an agency for Claudia to spend time, I ask what the weekly programme looks like, so I can see if there’s anything there that excites me and would excite her.

And the response is usually they do a “variety” of activities and can tailor things to suit her.

Sounds super-flexible. Except thats what I thought we were doing (looking for a variety of activities and experiences to suit her)

But I’m getting there and booking in some activities which have sprung up organically from the desires of other people. These are made real, often by parents, and gain traction and definition as more people find them and join in.

When we break it down, a Good Life after school is not dissimilar from a Good Life at school.

Access and participation in friendships, fun (laughs) activities to entertain, opportunities to extend, an education programme to increase literacy and numeracy, time to relax and a health and fitness programme to maintain quality of life.

And hey – if I’m having trouble identifying exactly what agencies are offering on which days and what times, then what a problem to have!

Only a couple of generations ago Claudia would have been whisked away and put into an institution where she would almost certainly have been subjected to abuse. No-one would be asking if her Good Life  included riding, swimming, cafe outings, air hockey and field trips.

We’re lucky we’re in Canterbury and can access EGL. We’re lucky it’s been going for long enough for some of the teething issues to be ironed out, but not so long our experiences can’t be part of the future model.

We’re lucky we’re in New Zealand, where, despite chronic underfunding in health, we still at least have funding. Where, despite the fact there won’t be enough money in Claudia’s pot to buy her a full time week, or even the equivalent of a school week, she gets some say over where and how her days away from home are spent.

And we’re lucky because Claudia is part of a surge of greatness in this country at the moment.

Now is a GREAT time to be a young woman in Aotearoa.

From Jacinda Ardern becoming Prime Minister and calling out sexist old broadcasters, to our Black Ferns winning sports team of the year and starting the conversation about women’s pay in sport.

From Lorde for not selling her sexuality to sell her talent, to the Silver Scroll finalists all being young women to Kanoa Lloyd telling it like it is on prime time and calling officials to front and be accountable.

Passionate, articulate, talented women not putting up with shit any more.

Like I said, just two generations ago Claudia’s life would have pretty horrible.  But now, as we create her Good Life, I’m confident there’s never been a better time for young assertive women to be young and assertive, and for someone like Claudia to be someone like Claudia.

Merry Christmas from Claudia, seen here enjoying her favourite people and favourite foods at her Annual Sausage Roll Christmas Party