Liz & I were down to Rockhaven for a luncheon and presentation a few days ago. Rockhaven is a special school full of special people made up of friendly students & caring staff. Liz has been working on her big retirement project with a group of the students and I serve as Vice Chair on the Parents Council.
Today’s post presents some images that are part of the everyday experience of students, parents, and staff of Rockhaven School for Exceptional Students . As you can see, it is obviously in Northern Ontario, trees, rock, snow, melt on the pavement & a hockey net.
The school buses were getting ready to take the students home after a very active day. The day had included a special lunch & visitors ( RTO members). A puppet presentation on autism that was funded with a grant from RTO ( Retired Teachers of Ontario). There was a presentation by RockHaven’s Exceptional Puppeteers ( Liz’s retirement project), and it all wrapped up with all the students singing/signing “Is Somebody Singing” (a song composed by Chris Hadfield & Ed Robertson).
I believe these images help put life into a bit of perspective. The school is a wonderful educational community and the students there have much to teach us. I imagine Chris Hadfield can see Rockhaven from the International Space Station, the students shine brightly enough.
Next to ELSS, where my wife & I had our teaching careers, the school of most importance to us is the school our daughter attends, Rockhaven School for Exceptional Students. When I first heard and visited the school, in my first year of teaching, I did not truly understand the significance of its location and name. A cynical person might think that the school and the students are isolated from the rest of the community. It is outside of Elliot Lake, near the community of Serpent River. Students are bused to the school. The location means that any students from the smaller outlying communities have a shorter distance to travel. Travelling is for the most part equalized in this way. Equal is an important word as is the word haven.
The range of exceptional students covers the full range of physical, communications, and developmental challenges & needs. In order to meet the needs of these young people, it requires an exceptional staff. Fortunately, for both the students and their families, that is exactly the case.
The nature of schools such as Rockhaven raises serious social & philosophical questions. What is normal ? Who establishes a set of norms for a community ? My wife, after years of instructing a range of students and raising two children with very different learning and processing challenges, simply says there is no norm. Everyone is normal. Everyone has their own set of challenges at communicating, learning, and mobility. After seeing how both of my wife’s parents were altered over time by the challenges of aging, it is also clear that where you are on the line of normal does not stop when you leave school.
Another thing we came to realize is that normal at Rockhaven includes some interesting characteristics. Everyone is helpful and friendly. Everyone tries. No one cares about your skin colour, ethnicity, religion, how much you make, your political allegiance, or how you look. Everyone looks different, and that is normal. Kids go to school to be with their friends; that includes students & staff. You can tell this because when the meet and greet each other in the community, it is with smiles, and hugs, and excitement. That is normal at Rockhaven.
Rockhaven. You can guess why the chose the name given the location. The Serpent River is across the road from the school. Behind the school is the rock of the Canadian Shield, that have spoken of in other posts about the communities of Northern Ontario.
Between a rock and a hard place, they say. Isolated ? Surrounded by wild nature ? Well they do have to watch for bears and foxes on occasion. When we last visited you could hear a rooster from nearby announcing his territory. There are weekly visits to the community pool in Elliot Lake. Arrangements are still underway to resume weekly bowling in the community of Spanish. There are out-door activities, such as ice-fishing and horse back riding, though not as frequently as we might like.
There are smart boards in the classrooms to take advantage of new media inter-active learning. There is a huge kitchen to instruct in practical life skills. There is music and a gym. There are washing machines and special washroom facilities. There is the Sensory Exploration (aka Snoezelen Room). There will be an extended theatre/puppetry co-op program that my wife will be initiating this year. ( She ran a similar class with LEAD students at ELSS last semester. They visited 9 schools-community centres, including Rockhaven. Some of the LEAD students originally went to Rockhaven, before switching to ELSS. )
Yes there is some wilderness in the vicinity of the school, welcome to any Northern Ontario community. You will not find anyone hanging around the school. For one thing, it would be obvious. For another, the bears would chase them away. Urban violence ? No, between a rock and a hard place is a haven, where they understand the meaning of normal and acceptance.
“We believe that many of the values held by our students, such as love, trust and a willingness to share and understand, are attributes they can teach to others.
It is to this end that we hope our students will integrate to live satisfying and productive lives in their communities.”
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Liz and I were at Rockhaven to participate in the Terry Fox Walk and luncheon that followed. I will have a future post of what was seen on the walk. Above is a small sample. Enjoy the day.
Something different for this blog, I don’t do family shots for posting, but I had one that fitted the style and tone I have developed over the last 169 posts( can not believe that number). My daughter had fallen asleep and my wife said to get the camera. I used the cyber shot cell-phone. The muted yellow glow from the night lamp and the soft quality of the photograph just seemed to work. I used PaintShop Pro X , virtual photographer plug-in, a texture of my own devising , and a texture from Shadow House Creations to get the final result posted here.
As you can probably tell from photograph, our daughter is a Down’s Person. She is a teenager, but it is not easy to tell her age. We have faced many challenges as a family. It never gets easier, just different . We try to dwell on the happier moments, recharging our batteries in preparation for those more difficult moments that come on any given day. Natasha loves her big brother, who is presently attending college studying computer game design & production and is preparing to do post-graduate studies in animation. She has her cat; together they are partners in crime. There are her all friends, both students and staff, at Rockhaven School, the best place ever. This week she won top female swimmer at the annual competition . Today they had a outdoor camp excursion.
As my daughter sleeps
I capture a moment
Dreaming on her pillow.
The haiku is missing a syllable in the second line. A missing syllable, an extra chromosome, what does it matter; all there really is are those moments.