A sense of belonging


To the Editor:

In local news this week, there is much being said about a drawing on the bathroom walls at MVRHS. This reminded me that I have been wanting to share my experience with the students at this high school.

I recently moved to the Vineyard to seek peaceful healing for myself and my children. One of my children has complex needs. He has autism, intellectual disability, and a serious mental illness. More important, my son has a smile that lights up a room and an eagerness to be a part of the Vineyard team. He loves purple socks.

I’m writing to tell you that the school system here and parents have done an amazing job raising their children. The experience that he has had entering the school is more than a mother of a child with complex needs could ever dream of.

The MVRHS swim team embraced him as one of their own. They even allowed him to swim in a meet. The joy on his face for being part of the Vineyard team is something I can never thank you all enough for. The kids cheered him on as he swam as fast as he could while grinning ear to ear. It was not so long ago that a child like mine would not be welcome on the sidelines cheering on a team, much less being a celebrated team member.

While we attend community events, high school students I don’t know walk up to me. They introduce themselves as my son’s friends. The first time this happened (they were “cool” kids), I thought it was a sick joke. It wasn’t. They all stayed with him chatting. This occurs frequently. He has even had “typical” kids ask him to do things with them after school hours.

When we give birth to a child we have many things in our dreams for their futures. We hope to see them play in a band, excel at a sport, attend the prom, and enjoy stages of growing up. I’ve left behind those expectations one at a time as I watched his childhood friends move beyond his social and intellectual abilities. I redefined what was important to him; a life where he can belong to a community and live with dignity and respect.

I’m grateful that when I relocated here this past September, the school embraced my son. My heart is full of grateful tears that my son has peers raised by parents like yourselves. In the midst of moments that aren’t so great, please know that this community, that high school, the parents, and those students are compassionate, amazing kids. They have given me a gift that I can never repay. We are all capable of doing hateful things, but that doesn’t define us in the big picture. The recent graffiti doesn’t define these students either.

Jane Flanders
West Tisbury