As we prepare to head back to the mountains for an autism day camp so outstanding we’re willing to drive 12 hours to take C (and, I admit for the cooler weather), I am reminded of the various reasons we left our paradise to move south to the desert. We’ve lived in a ski town before, before we had C (and then we moved to the desert, and then we moved back to another paradise, and now we’re back in the desert). After we had C, Husband would ski on Saturday and I’d go on Sunday. Not ideal. Despite the fact that 5 feet of snow in a single weekend didn’t much make a dent in the lives of folk who live there (us included), the winters did get a bit long with a small child who hadn’t learned how to walk yet, much less ski. C eventually did take some ski lessons, but because of his low muscle tone, it became clear he wouldn’t be tearing up the slopes anytime soon.
Yet first and foremost, were the school challenges we faced in paradise. Once we pulled C from what should be known as “The Terrible Montessori Experiment,” we enrolled him in the regular public school. The catch was that we didn’t enroll him in the regular public school in our town. The public school in our town had failing scores year after year. We knew the truth behind those failing scores, and they didn’t phase us. A school’s rating doesn’t generally tell much about the special education program, so we tend to take ratings with a grain of salt. The challenge in our public school was the fact that 82% of the students were English Language Learners. First generation English language learners. Lest you think I’m saying something I’m not, let me clarify. Our issue was not the racial makeup of the school; we considered the diversity, and the opportunity for C to learn Spanish in one of the innovative dual language classrooms, advantages. However, we consider C an English language learner. We have observed, over the years, that he has operated much like a student learning not in his native tongue. The subtleties of a language must be learned by immersion, not by reading a book. And to put C in a situation where he, like most of the other students, would be “learning” the language, and all the social intricacies of that language, was not a good idea for him at the time. He needed to be in a situation more balanced, one where he had the opportunity to interact with kids who already knew the language. So we enrolled him in the school in the next town, which had about a 50% ratio of ELL students to native English speakers. And he flourished.
The fatal flaws? The school was 25 minutes away, no bus service, and snowy, icy roads to contend with. All his friends lived in another town. Not the neighborhood school we pictured when we envisioned his elementary school years. Now, in the desert, we’re 5 minutes away from school, and almost all the kids in town go to the same school.
Do we miss it? Desperately, at times, especially as the thermometer is always over 100 degrees this time of year, with no end in sight. Yet Ga and Pa are 15 minutes up the road, C can ride his bike all winter, and school is going well. The opportunities afforded to him by living near a large metropolis are endless. And the mountains will always be where they are, eventually, I’m sure, beckoning us back to paradise.