First and foremost, I am the mother of Sage and Samaya. My journey on behalf of my children turned into a journey on behalf of ALL children. In retrospect, this journey started the day I was born. Activism was in my blood ever since early childhood. As a child in the 70’s, social justice issues were in the air. I embraced and acted upon them with friends who are still an important part of my life today. For example, we started the “Don’t Be a Litter Bug Club”, supported the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and protested the election of Richard Nixon, right on our block, our little corner of Earth. Much of our inspiration came from the film Free to Be You and Me with Marlo Thomas which was shown in our elementary school by progressive educators. Grateful for my amazing childhood friends and the educators who helped to shape our lives!
Before having my children, I had a vision of starting a “holistic learning center for children”. I wasn’t quite sure where this vision came from or why. Over the course of time, I transitioned from working in the technology field to teaching college and establishing my organization, The Children’s Sangha. Next, the birth of Sage! Married to a wonderful man who supported my selection of children’s names… My daughter, Samaya was to come three years later. Both names relate to a commitment to the path of wisdom. Little did I know that the birth of Sage would be the birth of true wisdom in my life. And that through Samaya, I would learn the patience to endure the ebb and flow of the new path on which “we” had been placed.
How can I begin to describe how the birth of Sage became the birth of wisdom? I will start at the beginning… Sage was a very happy and very intense baby at the same time. It was obvious from about 15 months old that there was something “up”. He would get easily overstimulated and developed vocal and motor tics. He exhibited impulsive behavior especially in social settings. And, he had to have everything “exact”, in its place and clean. I recognized the signs of ADHD and OCD and learned about sensory integration disorder over time. In the home setting, he flourished. I knew Sage was very bright from the start. At two and a half years old he enjoyed watching the History and Biography Channels. He loved geography and he had many maps and globes with which I would offer lessons and play games on a daily basis. In selecting a nursery school, we chose Montessori, thinking it would provide an appropriate and stimulating environment for our child. This is where the EBB of the journey comes into play. No more FLOW.
Our first parent teacher conference consisted of the teacher saying “Sage excels in geography, but learns as he is under the table throwing things”. The teacher did not have any guidance to offer, only a glare of judgment… alluding to the fact that it must be the parent’s fault (something many of us have experienced). We moved him into a smaller classroom at this school where we were lucky enough to have a teacher ask me to step outside the building as her administrator would not want her to advise me. Can you imagine a SCHOOL that is leery about helping parents and children! A question that still perplexes many a parent as it is a wide-spread phenomenon. This teacher told me about the book The Out of Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz (about Sensory Integration Disorder) and directed me to my public school where I could have Sage evaluated. Needless to say, I began the journey of “special education”. Unfortunately, it left much to be desired.
To keep it short and sweet, Sage was expelled from Kindergarten, sent to an out of district placement that was inappropriate as the program was abandoned by initial staff and replaced by inexperienced personnel. He then went to BOCES for six month until he could be placed back in our home school district. Sage experienced an array of challenges in the school setting that were either compounded by or resolved through his teacher’s level of compassion and skill. I, in the meantime, became an expert researcher! I learned about wrightlaw.com to know our legal rights and how to advocate for our son’s education. The turning point in the narrative was after one dreadful CSE meeting when Sage was in first grade. We hired an advocate to obtain a behavioral consultant who could advise teachers and staff at his school. After this contentious meeting, while driving home, I pulled over to the side of the road and burst into tears! Not something I am prone to doing. The tears manifested not out of sadness but out of anger! And, I vowed, if in my control, NEVER to allow another parents to have to endure what I just been through. Thus, The Children’s Sangha came to fruition… initially offering programs for children, and then establishing the Community Support Group for parents (based on the Collaborative & Proactive Solutions approach developed by Dr. Ross W. Greene). Both were places where children and their parents would be understood, accepted and guided. Building a collaborative community!
The ebb and flow continued over the course of Sage’s academic career. Having a sister like Samaya was a gift! Sage did not think so when she was initially brought home from the hospital… He wanted her sent back. The first few years were a struggle in terms of their relationship and his adjusting to her presence. But, her calm, kind, loving and patient manner healed us all. When we first found out that Sage had Tourette Syndrome (age 7), I watched the film I Have Tourette, But Tourette Doesn’t Have Me with Sage. His response was “I am glad that I am not just bad”. Yes, heartbreaking. I showed Samaya part of the film so that she would have some understanding of why Sage did some of the things that he did (like bumping into her and tic’ing in her face). One day in the car (car rides and nature outings were our saving grace!), Sage began to throw his body from side to side, bumping into Samaya’s car seat. And, she said “Tourette”. Sage was blown away by the fact that she “got it”. And, he calmed right down and tics subsided (for the moment).
From this point on, we went with the ebb and flow as a family. My husband went into sales so that his hours were more flexible. I taught college part-time and went back to school for a second masters in childhood education/special education. I continued to advocate for Sage in school and we were privileged to have an amazing principal as well as educators and staff who embraced the Collaborative & Proactive Solutions approach in the school setting… training everyone and transforming Sage’s life (and mine!). Middle and high school were what they were, increased academic demands, learned helplessness impacted by a writing disability (Dysgraphia) on Sage’s part, his abilities not being truly cultivated and needs not being fully met, and continued advocacy for me on behalf of “Kids in the Middle”. BUT, Sage’s tics disappeared in puberty. And, he somehow continued his love of learning in interest areas. He played roller hockey and volunteered with me at an organic farm where we were CSA members. He felt part of a community and was loved. His amazing sense of humor and intellect (curiosity about the world we live in, interest in history, philosophy, and politics) kept him moving in a positive direction.
After making it through NYS Regents exams (no thanks to NYS for changing graduation requirements) and the ACT, he was accepted into college and is majoring in Media & Communications. He has a job, a car, friends and is enjoying LIFE! He and Samaya are not just siblings but great friends! And, our family is whole, having weathered the ebb and flow and continuing to help others in the process. We are all one human family. Our goal is that the momentum continue as we reach out to greater numbers within the community highlighting the fact that we all have “Different Abilities” to be embraced and cultivated. The Children’s Sangha slogan is “Where Different Abilities Come to Life”. We are happy to say that our programs and consulting services have impacted many. And, we are on the cusp of plans for A Place of Wonder – Community Education Center in collaboration with community partners. We look forward to opening our arms and hearts to others on Long Island.
Christine Keller, M.A., M.S.Ed., is Executive Director of The Children’s Sangha and is an Adjunct College Professor at SUNY College at Old Westbury (teaching in History & Philosophy, First Year Experience and having taught in Exceptional Education & Learning). In addition to offering educational and nature-based programs and consulting services through The Children’s Sangha, she serves as a guest lecturer and conference presenter for Long Island colleges, schools and community organizations, educating and advocating on behalf of our kids.