Today I want to take a break from intervention ideas and work task. I won’t be sharing organization tips or class photos. Today’s post is more important. Sunday was the most important day of my school year. It’s the day that turns a group of children with autism into a family. It’s the day that sets the tone for the rest of my school year. It sets the tone that parents, teachers, and therapists are working together. We are one unified team that want to celebrate their child. And not the stiff IEP meeting way. In a way that is much more real.
On Sunday, we took our fourth annual family field. It’s a day long field trip for all of the students in my classroom and my coworker’s and their families. We had a group of over 100 that filled two school buses. Our field trip is to Rustic Falls Nature Camp. Rustic Falls was started by aunt and uncle and I’d love to take today’s post to share a little bit about their amazing story and all they have done to help my classroom.
About 8 years ago my uncle Eric was diagnosed with colon cancer with a fatal prognosis. I am from a large and close knit family and the diagnosis rocked everyone’s world. Eric had two young child and his wife – my aunt Deanna – is quite literally the most selfless and giving person in the world. The thought that this could happen to them was unbelievable. Somehow between chemo trips and doctors checkups, Eric and Deanna created a vision. A vision for a nature camp that could help people get away from their daily lives. Rustic Falls Nature Camp was founded in 2006. In that short time, Eric and Deanna with the help of a wide range of volunteers have grown Rustic Falls to two buildings and acres of trails. Rustic Falls provides programing for urban youth, children with special needs, and families battling cancer. My cousins, Sarah and Patrick, work tirelessly with their parents to help create these individualized programs.
On the first trip to Rustic Falls, everyone hesitantly got off the bus. Nobody knew quite what to expect. Everyone took a while to warm up and get comfortable. Four years later, our group has doubled in size. Kids cheered as we pulled into the parking lot. Within minutes, families were relaxing, going on nature walks, playing together. The whole day was so relaxing. Families are able to enjoy their child. Families were able to spend time together – away from iPads and video games.
Some of the families of my students cannot afford to do many outings with their family. That combined with the difficulty that many of my students have with traveling or changes in their routine – means many of my students don’t get out much. At Rustic Falls were are able to prepare our students with visuals and appropriate preparation. Since we go every year there is consistency.
All of the parents and siblings have a common bond. They have a family member with autism. There is an immediate bond there that is almost visible. When one of my students has a tantrum or obsesses over a DVD case he brought with – nobody blinks an eye. There is no judgement. There is no worry of having to explain your child. Everyone understands. Everyone has been there.
I got teary eyed multiple times today. My aunt has a beautiful singing voice and sings a campfire song that she puts in the names of all kids. When she sings their name, they light up. It’s amazing to see how special and important they feel. The moment that got me the most, happened first thing this morning. One of my students who graduated last year came with on this trip. I’m not going to lie – he was one of my favorites and it was really hard to see him move on. When my fiance and I walked up to the school this morning to meet the buses, my old student saw me coming and a ran half a clock up to me to give me a hug. To know I have made such an impact on this child’s life is a feeling I can’t even quite describe. Seeing the kids reunited with their old friend also was also beyond touching. Who says kids with autism can’t make friends? My boys were running to each other with open arms.
I consider myself a hard working person, but in the presence of my aunt and uncle I often feel like a slacker. The seemingly effortless way they organize a trip for 100 quite literally amazes me. All of this would not be possible without them. Creating this environment of family within my classroom is completely credited to my amazing aunt and uncle. They gave us the opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle. We get away from data sheets, class schedules, chores, and rules and we get back to just enjoying each other and appreciating each other.
If you took the time to read this all – thank you. Thank you for letting me share my story. Thank you for letting me brag about how incredible my family is and how they have impacted my classroom.