Sally’s Inspiring Story from Student to Alum
By Susie Fry, Alumni Parent
I am the very proud mom to Sally, who graduated 5 years ago from Academy of Whole Learning school, as it was called then. And let me tell you right away (spoiler alert!) that I’m starting this story at the end of our Franklin Center journey, which was the beginning of the independent, confident life she’s now living.
The Happy Solution We Found for Our Neurodiverse Learner
Sally blossomed at Franklin Academy, spending 7 glorious years learning at her own pace and being involved in many memory-making experiences.
She had the opportunity to:
- Perform hip hop in a dance recital
- Attend Youth Day at the Capital and We day at the Xcel Energy Center
- Plan a class party using a budget
- Write a resume, interview and be hired to work in the school office
- Experience a few chilly overnight wilderness adventures
- Catch a touchdown pass in flag football
Now that she’s graduated, she works in childcare at the YMCA and is currently in her fourth year in the Community Living Program at Minnesota Independence College and Community. Her independence amazes us! Sally walks or rides her bike – or orders her own metro mobility rides and Lyft rides — to work, for shopping, for entertainment, and to meet up with friends. She manages her own timecard at work, does her own laundry, cooks meals (with some help!), and keeps her house plants alive (which is something not all adults can master!).
On top of these skills is the judgement that goes with them: when to water the plants, when to walk versus ordering a ride, when to leave home to show up at work on time! And even nuanced decisions, like knowing to seek out a friend to walk home with when it’s dark.
Yes, she gets some assistance from the program, but for many of life’s everyday moments, she is navigating on her own, using the skills she built in the areas of social-emotional capabilities, executive functioning, and self-discipline.
Her success today is based on those years of support, encouragement, and most of all, the integrated expertise at Franklin Center.
Is My Child Learning Anything All Day?
Sally’s journey mirrored many Franklin Center students. By second grade, I became increasingly frustrated with the implementation of her individual education plan (IEP). I often asked myself after picking Sally up from school, “what did she do all day?” I panicked that she was wasting her prime learning years. Every time I was in the special ed classroom, the students were reviewing the weather!
I homeschooled her for a bit, becoming more comfortable and at peace with Sally’s challenges. Then I enrolled her in an amazing program in the Minneapolis school district where she thrived both academically and socially. I toured the same program at middle school, only to find the classroom was set up like a traditional classroom. My heart sank. That person in the back row would be Sally! With less attention would come fewer opportunities for her to practice her expressive speech, more time for routine, and less time for learning.
I would again wonder what she did all day at school. I knew I would be in the building often, advocating for something better, though still not sure what that “better” looked like or how it should be implemented.
What a Better School Looks Like
Enter the Franklin Center. Sally, not surprising, was apprehensive to switch schools. Although her past schools were not ideal, true to Sally, she had made many friends, friends she still hangs out with today. But in an unexpected twist, as I chatted with other parents that first day, all I could think was “where have you people been all my life?” Both Sally and I were finding “our people.” These parents’ stories were so similar to mine, their view of the school so positive, and all felt like they had found hope and a home for their children.
For the first time in Sally’s educational journey, the teachers were educating ME about the best way to educate Sally. The most striking and somewhat shocking difference was that if I had any concerns about her plan, presto, a meeting was called, issues discussed, a collaborative solution agreed upon, and implemented quickly. My past feelings of uncertainty, frustration, and panic were replaced by hope, gratitude, and peace. Not once, in all her years at Franklin Center, have I wondered what she did all day!
I also became accustomed to a new meaning of peace, given to me by another mom. “Peace doesn’t mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
Sally succeeded thanks to the many talented and dedicated members of the school. Ann Rooney, the first head of school, was gifted at finding an educational plan tailored for all the little minds who were different from any other student. Julie Hoff, our first advancement director, was the brains behind the Minds of All Kinds (MOAK) breakfast, which is still a successful community builder, tearjerker, and fundraiser for our school.
It Takes a Village to Keep a Village Going
The trouble, noise, and hard work for me, as a parent, came when I became a member of the board during Sally’s second year. When Sally started school, there were 16 kids and a year later that number had dropped to 12. The school had only $2,000 in its checking account with no reserves or endowment.
I would leave these board meetings in a tizzy, wondering where on earth Sally would attend school if this place, that did so much good, had to close. So in the spirit of ‘we can do this,’ a group of dedicated, if not frightened parents, and incredibly talented members of our community, pulled together and gave unselfishly of their many talents, immeasurable hours of service, and generous treasures. We survived, and look, now we’re thriving.
The school grew by leaps and bounds when Wyayn Rasmussen wholeheartedly agreed to assume the Head of School role. We emerged as a well-respected name in the educational circles of the metro area and beyond and became an answer to many families’ hopes and dreams.
The Beauty of Where You Are: The Holland Story
Whenever I recount Sally’s story and hear other parents’ journeys, I’m reminded of a story I read when Sally was very young. I shared this story a few years ago at a MOAK breakfast and still read it occasionally to remind myself of how grateful I am. It’s called WELCOME to HOLLAND by Emily Perl Kingsley. She wrote it to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel.
Here’s the short version. When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The flight attendant comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.” But there’s been a change in the flight plan. You’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible place. It’s just a different place. You need to go out and buy new guidebooks. You have to learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But still…everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.” And the pain of that will never go away… because the loss of that dream is a real loss.
But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland. Franklin Center was and continues to be a special and lovely part of my Holland.