Circling the playground outside Heywood Elementary School is a blacktop track. Ten laps around the track is 1 mile.
The past six years, I’ve faithfully circled that track every morning on school days — with exceptions for the weather — with my son by my side, his tiny hand holding on to mine. I figure I’ve made hundreds of laps and dozens of miles around that track with Max.
Usually, the opportunity to spend those last few minutes of the morning with my son before he heads off to a day of school is the best part of my day. I’m guessing it won’t be long before Max feels he’s too old to be holding my hand in public and will start pulling away from the hug and kiss I give him every morning before he starts his school day. I enjoy the conversations we have on those morning constitutionals, most of which involve the latest episode of some television show I probably should not have let him watch due to its adult language.
In a few days, however, those morning walks are going to be coming to an end.
On May 30, Max will attend his final day at Heywood Elementary School. It’s been an incredible journey for our family, which began in fall of 2009 when my daughter Sophie began attending kindergarten at Heywood. It’s a funny thing, sending your child off to school — they are your most precious commodity, the things you value most in your life, yet for 180 days every year, you are essentially putting both their well-being and their future in the hands of strangers.
Fortunately for us, the faculty and staff didn’t stay strangers for very long and we quickly found we couldn’t have been putting them in the hands of any more professional, compassionate, loving teachers, faculty and staff members. We have been welcome at Heywood with open arms by people who have gone out of their way to make sure our children not only were learning every day from a scholastic standpoint, but growing as people as well.
The people at Heywood Elementary School took a special interest in our son, who came to Heywood in kindergarten with limited verbal skills, because he is on the autism spectrum. Sending him off to elementary school, quite frankly, terrified us. Watching your child leave for kindergarten can be tough for any parent — when you are the parent of a child with special needs, it presents a whole new series of worries and concerns.
We shouldn’t have been worred.
Everyone at Heywood embraces Max. They protect Max. They love Max. They gave our son the help he needs, without ever giving him special treatment. They take care of his needs, while at the same time challenging him to become a better student. From his first day of kindergarten until his final day of fifth grade in less than 10 days, we would not have changed a single thing. If we could have assembled a “dream team” of educators, it probably would have looked a lot like the staff at Heywood Elementary School.
I like to think I’m pretty proficient with words, having spent my entire adult life in this industry. But as loquacious as I may be, if I live a thousand lifetimes, I’ll never be able to come up with the proper words to truly thank the folks at Heywood for what they’ve done for my family. Over the past decade, they’ve become more than the teachers who have educated our children — they’ve become our friends and extended members of our family.
And now Max is preparing to leave that welcoming cocoon. He’ll be off to Van Cleve, then Troy Junior High School, Troy High School and college. The schools will get bigger and the challenges greater with each step. But as scary as all of that may be, we will be steeled by the knowledge he spent six years getting the best possible foundation.
In a few more days, I’ll take that last morning lap with my baby boy. Then, a few hours later, he’ll walk out of Heywood Elementary School for the final time.
And thanks to everyone there, he’ll be ready to run.
Troy’s very own David Fong appears weekly in the Miami Valley Sunday News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong