Suppose we take a trip to an elementary school located in a small town in America.   There we find a young boy sitting in the hall.  No one pays any attention to him as he sits there idly playing with his pencils, paper and crayons.  No one seems to care about him.  The teacher believes he is retarded because he can’t learn to spell, read or write.  He seems to be content to take things apart rather than pay attention to the lessons.

She reports to the principal that she can’t deal with his special needs because the class is too large and it would take time away from the other students so he is relegated to sit in the hall every day.  The principal contacts the local university’s early childhood education diagnostic center for assistance where he is immediately scheduled for testing. The findings were startling. He is not found to be retarded, but to be left-handed and dyslexic with mirror vision.  His world is completely backwards from that of a normal person.

The year was 1970 and the young boy is my son, Mark.  Strange as it may seem, it never occurred to me that Mark was somehow different.  Being the third child in the family he seemed to fit right in with his older brother and sister and life in general.

He was a shy, quiet child who just went along with the flow of daily living.  But, after the shocking news that he was unable to grasp the basic lessons of a first grade student I began searching for answers. A left-handed friend was enlisted to teach him basic skills such as tying his shoes, etc.  As he gained more self-confidence he became more verbal and less shy.

It was the beginning of life long teaching and learning experiences for both of us.  Mark and I spent many hours together working hard on his school lessons. Looking back I firmly believe he showed signs of AD/HD Syndrome, which was an unknown issue in the 1970’s. Although he didn’t rank at the top of his class, he was taught the skills necessary to learn and graduated from high school with his class. At the age of 16 he volunteered with the local fire department and began his journey into the world of saving lives. Today Mark leads a productive life as an EMT/Fireman in the town where he lives in Texas.

Because of family dynamics Mark and I had not seen each other for the past 15 years until this past week when he came to Colorado to visit me. Communicating via electronic devices can’t compare to seeing him again in person. My shy, quiet son has grown into an outgoing, confident man.  I’m glad I had the opportunity of embracing him and telling him in person how proud I am of him and his many accomplishments.  The choices and decisions he made for his life were not easy ones, but with the support and help from mentors and encouragement from his family, he has achieved the lifetime goals he set for himself many years ago.  When asked what he enjoys most about his job his answer is quick and firm: “Saving lives everyday.”

I believe that if special education programs had been in existence when Mark was a young boy, the learning process would have been at a much higher level for him. Choices in education are not only desirable, they are absolutely necessary.  Quality education for all students is vital not only for them to succeed in life, but as a whole for the community in which they live.