An open letter to Ocean City Elementary School:
Disappointment is not a feeling my family ever felt with Ocean City Elementary School over the last seven years, but it’s exactly how we feel today.
We were so looking forward to celebrating Carson’s “graduation” from school this spring. It’s a wonderful achievement for him and our family personally, but we were really looking forward to applauding you all for the commitment, patience and care you have shown him during his long stint at OCES.
It was our hope those of you who taught and played a role in his adventure would take some time over these final weeks and reflect on our kid. If you taught him, we know you were tested. Due to his disabilities, he requires enormous patience and understanding. He’s super smart and kind, but he doesn’t always show it. He’s a hard worker when he wants to be, but you must learn the secret combination to elicit his best effort. He has been raised to be a gentleman, but he can be anything but at times. He’s a funny dude, but I’m sure there were days when he left you crying.
We know all this because he’s our son. You know all this because you were his teacher. Since you have the heart of a teacher, you likely felt like he was your kid, too. He does have that way about him. He’s tough to bond with early on, but when the trust is built the connection is real and everlasting.
We know this because some of you surprised us by coming to watch him surf in the annual Surfer’s Healing event. Nobody made you come. It was your summer break. We mentioned the date in passing at the end of the school year. We never expected any of you to come, but some of you did. The fact you were willing to join us has created lasting fondness in our heart for all of you.
To say it’s tough to leave OCES would be an understatement. It’s a bit incomprehensible during these crazy times. Carson has clearly grown up in that building and in all those classrooms. It’s also fair to say Pam and I have matured as well through the many ups and downs.
To be fair, there were many trials and tribulations. Time has not worked its magic yet in dulling the tough times. Some days and weeks were just horrible. There were one or two days I didn’t even make it back to my office before fielding a call for misbehavior. I will never forget the call about the fire alarm he pulled and the entire school community standing in the rain as a result.
He was unexpectedly volatile at times, and I know he made some days hell for his teachers. I know this because you confided in me. I will never forget the private conversation with a teacher after a terrible day when another teacher and a student were hurt because of his antics. You told me, “I’ve never had a child like this.” It was tough to hear, mostly because it furthered our fears and uncertainties about what life would be like with our kid.
We learned a lot through our journey. At some point, we began telling our teachers how tough school is for him. He’s nonverbal and different because he’s on the spectrum. No matter how aloof he may seem at times, he’s fully cognizant of what’s going on around him. He knows he’s different. I think by the end of each school year you all understood the obstacles he faced daily just to get through a day.
I thought long about naming everyone who touched us over the last seven years. Unfortunately, someone will be left out. There were the amazing classroom teachers and inspiring one-on-one assistants who became family as well as the principals, office folks, school nurses and the custodial staff. Each played a role in his life. You know who you are because we showed you at various points how much you mean to us.
My family’s enduring wish for OCES is to simply know how grateful we are for our experience. The memories are with us forever. I will never forget his first day in 3-year-old early intervention. We were sick over our anxiety. I will never forget the emotional IEP meetings that sometimes resulted in concerns too much to bear. His humpty dumpty presentation in pre-kindergarten was a disaster, but he looked cute in his mom’s custom-made outfit. He did a wonderful job in kindergarten using his speaking device to detail his first trip to Walt Disney World. He stood on stage in second grade and hummed during a singing show despite being nonverbal. He loved the giggles of Field Day. He got an award in fourth grade for Most Improved Pupil, but his reluctance to be in the spotlight led him to wrap himself up in a nearby flag. When he left the stage, he continued to hold on to the flag pole, toppling it over. It’s just how things go sometimes with Carson.
Our hope for this spring was for the OCES community to marvel over Carson and how far he has come in his seven years. It didn’t happen publicly, but we hope you all feel pride in sending him on his way. We don’t know what the future holds for our guy, but we know the support and love he received at OCES helped him toward being the best version of himself. We will miss you all and know you are appreciated and admired.