Star had been at school for half a term and so it was time to go in and meet with the staff about her progress.
On the morning of the meeting her educational psychologist e mailed us her report on her observations of Star in class.
I opened the e mail with a sense of trepidation.
This is not the first such report I have read about Star. The first one was written two years ago, when she was observed at nursery, 4 months after being taken into foster care.
When I read the report I had never met Star. I had seen pictures and spoken to her social worker at length about her time with her birth family, the progress she had made since being taken into care. And about her Down syndrome and the kind of forever family the social workers felt she needed.
This first report described a little girl who could only walk a few steps before sitting. Who could not interact with her peers in a positive manner. Who “ignores the routine of the session and did what she pleased.” [good on her- thought I] whose speech was unclear and was globally delayed, needed high levels of support. I could go on.
Star wobbled during her first few weeks at school and I wondered if she was going to manage mainstream.
And I started to doubt myself. Were all those hours of phonics and speech practice worthwhile? The effort we went to of persuading, letter writing and appealing to ensure she was retained an academic year. We said we wanted her to have the best chance at succeeding at school, but maybe this was going to be a step too far. Maybe the damage was too great. Our little girl was hurting and so I was hurting too.
Then she clicked with her Teaching assistant and things started to improve. Instead of being punished, they found praise worked better. Teachers found ways to distract her, to engage her. And we began to feel more hopeful.
And so I opened the e mail.
And read about my daughter in class, interacting with the other children, appearing happy and settled, working well with adults, sometimes appearing overwhelmed. It described how her speech can be unclear to unfamiliar adults.
At the meeting, the teacher described how Star had become the class fruit monitor. How she loves this job, she goes to collect the fruit at break time and hands it out to her class mates.
Later her teacher described when she had been teaching the whole class a sentence to write. When the teacher sat beside Star she chose all the phonics correctly.
“That’s good?” We said hopefully.
“No, it’s not good – it’s great – half the reception class can’t manage to do that yet.” Came the reply.
I turned away so that they couldn’t see my eyes fill with tears.
The educational psychologist’s report concluded “Star has made a great start to her education, which given her early life experiences is a huge achievement.”
My brilliant, beautiful girl, I am sorry that I doubted you when you just needed time to settle.
I am sorry that I felt upset when people tell me your speech is unclear, when they just need time to learn to listen.
I am sorry that I felt afraid for you, when you are in fact, the bravest person I know.
The next morning my lovely Star did not want to go into school and neither did her class mate, Izzie.
“Star,” said the teacher at the door, “Can you help Izzie come in?”
Star, who had been protesting, turned to look at the tear streaked face of her friend.
Star put her hand on Izzie’s shoulder.
And into class they walked together.
I had the distinct feeling, that somewhere in heaven, there was cheering.
And a still small voice was whispering to me:
“Did you see that…..that is what huge achievement truly looks like.”