That’s it. Fifth grade is over and this fall, Benny starts middle school. It’s going a tough time for me because Davidson Elementary School is pretty incredible. It’s a big reason why we moved to our neighborhood 13 years ago. It’s a unique award-winning public school; a place where everyone knows its motto, “Discover, Explore, Succeed.”
When Benny started Kindergarten, he’d already been living with type 1 diabetes for almost 4 years. He knew how to check blood sugar, use his pump, to speak up when he felt high or low and to carry his kit everywhere he went. But boy, were we nervous. He was the only T1D kiddo in the school at the time. I wish I could go back and tell myself how great the next six years would be. How the staff would embrace us, how they’d work to make Benny feel accepted and loved and how, while diabetes management would never be perfect, he’d always be safe and well taken care of.
I’ve never mentioned where Benny has gone to school – frankly, with my old job on the radio, I didn’t think it was a good idea to make it public. I stand by that decision, but it means I’ve never been able to publicly thank the staff at DES. Let’s fix that.
My sincere thanks and appreciation to:
Mrs. Hoyer, for making the transition to Kindergarten so much better than I had feared. When I found out you’d already taught students elsewhere with T1D, I couldn’t believe our good fortune. It was a great way to start off and it set the tone for the next six years.
Mrs. Harrigan, for speaking up and telling the school that she wanted more help, as first grade teachers at DES don’t usually have an assistant. This ultimately resulted in a “floater” who helped many kids with special needs. By the time 2nd grade started, there were 3 kids with T1D in this school and 4 the year after. Backup is good.
Kathe Hyman, who was that “floater” assistant. We had some great texts & calls. One of my favorites was when I was going on with her about B being “high and hungry” at school while I was checking out at Target. Got a few strange looks!
Mrs. Smith, for going above and beyond. Benny’s big request in second grade was to buy lunch at the school cafeteria, which made us all nervous. While our district provides carb counts, they don’t always match what’s on the menu that day. Jen would occasionally text us pictures of Benny’s lunch and ask for a carb count. We got so used to group texting that we sometimes went off the rails (more).
Mrs. McLennon for being tough on Benny academically but understanding of his medical issues. This was the year that his migraines, which started at the end of Kindergarten, got more frequent and intense. Thank you for trusting him. And for working miracles with his handwriting.
Mrs. Ellis & Mr. Verlin, for embracing our push for diabetes independence in 4th grade. Benny no longer had to check in with faculty unless he had an issue. You both also jumped to fully embrace the BEAM Team, our big school JDRF walk team. Thanks for letting Benny pie you in the face. Sorry about the mess.
Mr. Verlin (again) and Mrs. Berlin for an interesting 5th grade year. The Verlin-Berlin combo was perfect for Benny’s last year at DES. This year was a little tougher for diabetes management, and we appreciate you helping out with a few more reminders. Tough balance of staying on Benny without making him feel like we’re treating him like a little kid. You walked that line so well.
Huge thank you to our principal, Mr. Jarrett. Here’s a great example of how he leads the school. Last year he and some of the staff participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge. He selected Benny and another student with T1D to douse him. He never announced why, didn’t talk about their diabetes. He told me later he just knew they’d get why it was important.
Mr. Smith for making our 504 meetings easy and painless. Our feeling on testing is that elementary school was the warm up act for later, a chance to learn how to make standardized testing with T1D the best it could be for Benny. Thanks for walking me through the process and encouraging me to write in anything we thought Benny would need
I think we had a full time school nurse for one year at DES. But we’ve had amazing support. Gayle Castongia & Lisa Parham at the front office are incredible. They help take care of all the kids. Over the years, I’ve worked the most with Gayle, who so obviously cares about Benny. She listens to and trusts him, which is invaluable.
Karen Jackson, our first school nurse, who trained several staffers on using Benny’s Animas pump. She made me comfortable right from the beginning.
Nancy Mullins, our second school nurse. She was there when Benny started getting those migraines. So awful (by the way, he still gets them occasionally, but it’s not quite as frequent). Nancy is just wonderful – and she still comes to our spaghetti dinner every year!
We hit the T1D jackpot with our current nurse. I’ve actually known Julie Allred for years, she has type 1 herself (although she has had an islet cell transplant, so it’s a bit different). I’m fortunate to call her my friend and all the kids at school are lucky to have her. Are you sure you don’t want to transfer to middle school?!
Mr. Rabb is our phys ed teacher who keeps the kids active and running and even helped us out with The Big Blue Test at school last year (more).
In all our years at DES I went on one field trip – at Benny’s request. The school never made me feel obligated to go and I always felt safe sending Benny. He went on the 5th grade trip to DC without me or Slade (we had a schedule conflict, the original plan was for my husband to go). Everyone looked out for him. It was an incredible feeling of love and support. And it was a great way for Benny to show that he could be independent and responsible.
I will miss reading diabetes books to each class and giving my educational and kind of silly talks (more). I’ll miss the JDRF Kids Walks and the Tigers on the Prowl and Arts Fest and Book Fair, the talent show, the holiday show and so many other milestones that make elementary school unique. I’ll miss that everyone in that school knows who my child is.
This week is bittersweet. It’s hard to realize we’re moving on. I’ve been joking all year about holding him back and keeping B in DES another year. I know middle school will be fine. I know high school will be fine and that he’ll be fine growing up with diabetes. Part of the reason I know that, though, is because of our experience to this point.
Benny’s received a terrific K-5 education, but it’s one that’s included two different sets of curriculum. The regular grammar school stuff, along with a diabetes education as well. I’m so grateful that in both, he was allowed and encouraged to “Discover, Explore & Succeed.”