Graduation Day

This past weekend was Graduation weekend on the Cape. I love attending graduation and seeing children that I’ve known longer than they’ve been alive in their cap and gowns. I burst with pride alongside their parents and loved ones, knowing how hard they worked for this small piece of parchment.  I take pride in knowing my signature is on their their diploma. That I had a very small hand in helping them succeed.

Truly it is one of my most favorite days of the year.

Once the seniors graduate, the younger grades begin their transitions to their next school.  Every one of them seem to have a step-up or mini-graduation day.  What the heck?  I avoid the celebrations like I avoid getting talked into going to a craft store.  I just don’t get it.  Yes, your child is going from 2nd grade to 3rd. What’s the big whoop? Oh your child is going from 8th grade to high school.  We must have a step-up day.

It’s like the “everybody gets a trophy” of graduations.  Something that was supposed to be a rite of passage, a culmination of all their hard work is now experienced by every child in the freaking district.  Don’t even get me started on how an 7th & 8th grade semi-formal is now a mini-prom.  It’s ridiculous.   A child doesn’t get to experience the same event as their older peers.  This is where entitlement comes from, we are ruining our children as we take the special day and water it down. Instead of something to look forward to, it becomes the norm. Which means the Pinterest moms all have to outdo one another from kindergarten all the way to graduation.  What are you doing to yourselves.   Let your kids be kids and save all that time and energy to plan a family vacation.

Me? I refuse to participate. I will go to Abby’s graduation when she graduates in 12th grade and again when she graduates from whatever higher learning she attends.  She isn’t hurt by this, she agrees that it is foolish. In her words: “I mean it’s not like I don’t have to go back to the fall. I just go to a different classroom”.  Same torture, different room.

While this seems like a pointless ramble, bear with me.

Tonight I came home to not one but two invites to Bridget’s “step up day”.  One from her traditional classroom and one from her Special Education room.  On the surface it is benign and sweet.  Yes, I would love to see photos of Bridget’s year. Yes, I probably should want to go and celebrate her moving from one school to the next.  But these are not the mini-graduations I want to celebrate with Bridget.

I want the real thing. I want her to graduate and get her diploma.  But she won’t.

Not because she is unable to graduate, but because the State of Massachusetts feels she is not worthy of a diploma. Bridget is just one of many.  For a parent of a child with special needs, the feeling is like a slap in the face. We believed in the school system, we attended every IEP meeting, we were told that our child was learning in the least-restrictive environment but we forgot to read the fine print.

As I sat there and watched the graduates hear their names, walk up and shake the hands of their Principals and Vice Principals I was overtaken by emotion. And those who know me know I don’t deal with emotion.  This month we have revamped Bridget’s IEP for 3rd grade. It was sitting at graduation that I realized, Bridget would never truly graduate.

She is “stepping up” to the year of the MCAS.

The MCAS, the bane of Abby’s existence, is the State mandated testing that all students must take. First in 3rd grade, then again throughout their tenure in the public school system.  If they do not pass their 10th grade MCAS (which includes a math, English and biology cohort) they do not get a diploma, but a certificate.  In Bridget’s IEP I had decided to do an alternative. I thought why waste everyone’s time? She cannot read, write or do mathematics.  Yet the State of Massachusetts decrees, “it’s the law” that all students take MCAS.  They do concede that some students with significant disabilities are incapable of taking the Standard test (even with accommodations) and I agree that there should be some assessment that they are learning.  I agreed to the MCAS-Alt portfolio.  Yet, I was never told that those students using this method only a few special education students ever obtain a diploma.  Or I may have been told but never internalized what this would mean to me.

How can you have “standards” when a child with a significant intellectual disability has an individual education plan? Bridget’s IEP is not standard, it is not the same as any of her peers. Her goals, her assessments are geared to her obtaining academic and life success. But those do not fall into any “standard” category.   I’m not saying I want the everybody gets a trophy (diploma) award for Bridget.

I’m saying I want her to obtain a diploma based on her merits.

Let’s face it, those with intellectual disabilities work harder to obtain every milestone, academic achievement and cognitive ability.  It takes hours of special education, therapies and interventions for them to learn how to do the smallest skill.  When Bridget reaches the Spring of 12th grade I want her to walk with her classmates, friends and peers. I want her teachers to cheer when her name is called. I want her Principal to understand that while Bridget might not have bolstered the school’s MCAS standings, her impact on the school culture was more important.  That she, like the valedictorian, added value to her school.  I want each and every person there to know this isn’t a trophy-diploma, but a hard earned and well-deserved diploma.


I want to sit there and watch Bridget walk with her friends to the flagpole and toss her cap in the air.



And that some school committee member is bursting with pride because their name is on Bridget’s diploma.






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