They cheered each other as each new car arrived with another student. They were wearing their production hoodies and shirts and school uniforms. They were buzzing with positive energy – ready for their third performance of the day. Not nervous, buoyed. Several kids were introducing our son to their parents. Some of his new friends broke into huge smiles when they saw us and one gave me a big hug. The spirit was high. I was expecting nerves, uncertainties. But instead this place was alight with confidence and a sense of fun and accomplishment. These kids were in a good place. Soon they would be onstage, but in these early moments before the curtain was raised, they were already a team.
Our family has extensive experience with theatre. The lead up to this night was every bit as intensive a schedule as for a semi-professional or major amateur theatre group. Before they got to this place, hours of expert direction and guidance took place. Even before they started rehearsals, these kids were being prepared for their moment. And that is the thing that brings me to tears every time I think about, sappy soul that I am (or that I am becoming). The whole school experience for these kids makes nights like this possible.
I don’t know all of their stories, I just know our son’s story.
Our son has always loved music, performing. He’s kind of awesome at it. He’s now in Year 8. He attended mainstream school until last November. In his school’s end of year production in Year 6, he was given I think three words to say, and was placed behind a taller child where no one could see him. In Year 7 at the secondary school, he eagerly attended the rehearsals for Oliver (he knows every word of the songs) but he had to drop out because the school was not set up to support him through the rehearsals and he was getting into trouble. Only a few months after he was close to rock bottom having nearly been crushed by the pressures of his old mainstream school, here in this specialist environment, with this team of educators who understand his needs (he has a diagnosis of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome) and have the resources to support him, not only was he onstage but he was in a main role, with more lines than I thought he could manage, and singing his heart out. And his teacher was literally #intheband!
And as I watched this theatre full of amazing students I was multiplying in my mind his story by her story by their stories, and the full impact of what was happening left me humbled.
THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE FOR EVERY CHILD, EVERYWHERE.
There they were, these brave, hard working kids, singing their truth:
I’ve got so much to say,
If only you would listen.
I’ve tried ev’ry which way,
And still you never listen.
Can’t you see I’m hurting?
I couldn’t be more clear.
But I promise,
One day I’ll make you hear.
You know I try, try, try to explain–
I’m not the kid you want me to be.
And yet it’s all, it’s all in vain–
You just don’t want to see the real me.
You think you know what I’m all about–
And yet you just keep shutting me out!
I’ve got so much to share,
If only you would listen.
You could prove that you care,
If only you would listen.
I’m not gonna beg you–
You’ll never see a tear.
But I promise, one day, I’ll make you hear.
(Lyrics, from If Only You Would Listen)
We had a young friend with us, a child who attends our son’s old school. She said she wished could go to this school too. She didn’t see anything other than a cool school, with students who were having a great experience.
We were told by the head teacher that while any school should be happy to have a student like our son, this place is perfect for him because he is so very comfortable being who he is. I wrote about this in the last post, but I just can’t say enough how life-changing it is as a parent to know that your child is in a place that welcomes him, appreciates him, and wants him to be there.
Those words hold power.
They hold the power to change trajectories, to forge positive futures.
I am not saying this performance was smooth throughout. There were microphones that didn’t work, lines that took prompting. But what I loved most of all was imagining our son one day being like the lead actor – a talented young man who captivated us all last night – helping another young student like our son remember his lines some day.
More than the cheering each other upon arrival (which was truly awesome), I was deeply, deeply impressed by the way these students guided each other.
That is what this school is teaching.
And there they were! Some kids for whom even standing up in front of a room full of 120+ people would be a potentially crippling thought…some students who in other places would be mocked or sidelined or silenced – shoved to the back of the room, put into a side room or perhaps even excluded at times…some young adults who have overcome more than most of us will ever have to face…there they were. Shining.
During the curtain call, when the cast and crew were all onstage dancing and laughing and giving themselves high fives, we saw our son for the first time with his tribe. These kids weren’t patronizing him, these kids weren’t including him because they were told to, these kids were standing by him, with him. Together, they made us hear.
AND, they had a confetti cannon. You have no idea how much it means to our son to be on a stage with a confetti cannon, hearing the applause.
This school rocks.
(Now, how do we make it so every school can rock too?)