Silverman: From The First Day To The Last Day

By Amy Silverman
May 23, 2014

(Courtesy of Amy Silverman)
Sophie hugging her elementary school principal at fifth grade graduation.
(Courtesy of Amy Silverman)
Sophie and her kindergarten teacher, Jennifer Zamenski, at fifth grade graduation.

It’s graduation season and every school from elementary school to grad school has a celebration. The graduates are ready for their next step, sometimes the parents, like Amy Silverman, are not.



I was so nervous on Sophie’s first day of elementary school, I never could have imagined how sad I’d be on her last day.

In fact, as I hovered in the courtyard outside her classroom with several other anxious parents that very first day of kindergarten, I wasn’t sure she’d make it a week. Sophie is still small today, but when she started elementary school she was so tiny she couldn’t crawl up on the school’s kid-sized toilets, and had to be escorted to the nurse’s office to use the bathroom.

I worried constantly that she’d run from the playground and wind up in traffic; that she wouldn’t be able to open her juice box at lunch; that she’d interrupt constantly during lessons; that she wouldn’t understand.

Instead, Sophie thrived, learning to read and write; to add and subtract; and to use a computer way better than I can. She made friends, made art, and learned to jump.

There’s nothing tricked out about Broadmor Elementary School – it’s not a charter or a magnet or a traditional academy. It doesn’t have a special program for kids with Down syndrome. We chose it simply because it was our neighborhood school.

What makes the place special is the people. I am so tired of hearing complaints about the lousy state of public education in this country. I know things aren’t perfect, and I’m not going to tell you that Sophie’s experience was without its ups and downs, but I can tell you for sure that there isn’t a gift card in the world large enough to thank the staff at Broadmor: I have never met a more devoted, hard-working, well-meaning group of individuals in my life.

Lucky Sophie: She’s spent the last six years with them. It takes a village to raise any kid, and Sophie has required a small metropolis. Sophie has made it her business to know everyone at Broadmor, from the crossing guards to the parents waiting to pick their kids up after school. From day one, with very little exception, Broadmor Elementary School embraced my little girl, Down syndrome and all.

The other night, while ASU graduates celebrated a few blocks away, a hundred or so fifth graders and their families had our own party. Flanked by bouquets of black, red and silver helium balloons, one by one, the students crossed the stage in the Broadmor gym, pausing to shake hands with the fifth grade teachers, and then the principal.

When it was Sophie’s turn, she ignored the outstretched hands, hugging each of her teachers, then throwing her arms around her beloved principal, refusing to let go.

I sobbed through the fifth grade celebration, through the slideshow of photos and the speeches. At the end I turned to my husband to try to explain why I was so upset.

“The rest of these kids are all grown up, but not Sophie!” I stage-whispered, reaching for the Kleenex the principal had silently handed me before the ceremony.

The next day I realized that’s probably how every parent in the room felt.

Amy Silverman blogs at girlinapartyhat.com.