Supported Life Institute

Maureen and Jane

Maureen and Jane

Honoree Maureen Kelly

Supported life Institute of Northern California honored Co-op Director Maureen Kelly on October 5th, 2011 for the work she does with children and full inclusion of children with different abilities in the nursery school. Please read the presentation and the words from Parents.

“Smell your flower.
Now blow out your candle.
Smell your flower.
Blow out your candle.
Smell your flower.
Now blow out your candle.
Feeling centered? Good.”

Now you’re ready to hear about our next honoree: Maureen Kelly.

Maureen uses that little flower and candle ritual to help calm and center the children and adults that have come to join ‘circle time’ at the St. Helena Cooperative Nursery School, where she is the director. When the committee members were choosing awardees to introduce, I jumped at the chance to introduce Maureen… not ONLY, as everyone presumed, because her preschool is in Napa Valley, one of my favorite places on earth… but because her school is a parent participation nursery school. I know you’ve heard that everything you need to know you learn in kindergarten. But if you’re lucky, you get to learn it in preschool… and if you’re REALLY lucky, you get to learn it in a parent participation preschool. But, this award isn’t about the school; it’s about Maureen.

Anne Kuschner, who nominated Maureen, says that Maureen has touched the lives of hundreds of children and their families with joy, compassion and extraordinary insight. At the school, she has created a community where all children belong and where children are respected for whom they are each day when they come through the doors. The St. Helena Co-op is an inclusive program that supports child development, fosters community, builds compassion, and successfully involves all families. Anne goes on to say that Maureen is an educator, a mentor, and a coach who lives with the firm belief that every child deserves the opportunity – to learn, to grow, to contribute, to have friends, and to have fun. I can vouch for that!

I had the great good fortune to spend a morning at the preschool last week where my hosts were Indiana, Josephine, Oscar, James, and Tilly and about a dozen other three- and four-year-olds. The kids put me through my paces– we battered yellow play dough, mixed brown paint from every other color available to us, spewed flax seeds all over the place with a water mill, made and ‘ate’ mud pies—I pushed some kids on the swings—then I moved over to the construction zone near the water pump and the bike path. I issued tickets to individuals who failed to heed the stop sign on the bike path—then dispatched the construction crew to repair the stop sign that the angry ticket receivers had knocked down—then narrowly escaped being issued a ticket myself. I was invited to stay for ‘hi ho,’ but that will have to wait for another visit!

It was a wonderful way to spend a morning, but it still doesn’t tell you about the impact that Maureen has had in the lives of these and many other children and families. That is best done by the families themselves—so here are their words:

Erica Wahle writes –

When our 2nd daughter, Gretchen, was born with Down syndrome and people were at a loss for words, Maureen Kelly immediately picked up the phone… and she didn’t even know us. A mutual friend, who had children at the St. Helena Co-op, had told her about us and she reached out to complete strangers with nothing but support. On that day, we became family.

She immediately told us things were going to be okay and that she wanted Gretchen to come to her school. People talk about inclusion like it’s a magical place that exists, like Disneyland, but no one really knows what it looks like… [If] you are “doing inclusion” [right], it looks like an everyday classroom… Maureen… doesn’t think she does anything special for children with special needs. [And she’s right—what she does] is just in her blood; it’s the way she runs the school. It’s the way she sees the world. She doesn’t read IEPs, because she has the same goals and vision for all the children at her school. She realizes that the child with Down syndrome, the child with cerebral palsy, [and] the child who happens to use a wheelchair to get around each have as much to teach as they have to learn from their peers.

My daughter, Gretchen, had to do everything all the other children had to do at the co-op. Maureen never lowered the bar; in fact she raised it even higher. [And] Gretchen has always not only reached the bar, she is constantly jumping over it. We have taken our lead from Maureen and never looked back. Gretchen is the first child with Down syndrome [to be] fully included at St. Apollinaris Catholic School and will graduate from there in the 8th grade in 2018. Maureen is [the] biggest supporter, teacher and friend Gretchen could ever hope for. In return, Gretchen loves her unconditionally.

Maureen will always be a part of our lives and we [have been] forever changed by her.

Thanks for those words, Erica.

Ashley Derr writes:

Maureen has been inspirational in starting our daughter in an education of inclusion, and honestly, I’m not sure we would have chosen that path if it hadn’t have been for her.
When our daughter, Maya, was one year old, I attended a brain damage seminar… it was the first special needs event I had attempted to go to since starting on this path with our daughter. Not having childcare, I brought Maya with me to the seminar. At one of the breaks, Maureen approached me and asked if she could hold my baby, so that I could go to the bathroom. She went on to explain to me that she was the director of the St Helena Co-op Nursery school, and that the school was a full inclusion school and that Maya would be welcome to attend school there. The first year of our life with Maya had been difficult. She had such serious medical issues that I hadn’t even considered where her education would lead, … and frankly, I didn’t even know what inclusion was or that it would be possible for her to attend a typical school.

I kept that conversation in the back of my head, and when we started looking into preschools, we applied to the Co-Op. They gave her a scholarship for the first year, so that she was assured of getting in. Maureen placed her in the morning class so she would be fresh and alert while there. On one of the first few days of school, with our permission of course, Maureen asked [Maya if] it would be OK to tell the [other] kids a little about her. [Maya} signed yes. Maureen showed the kids [Maya’s] g-tube and talked about the different ways Maya needed to walk and talk and [told them that Maya] was just another kid that liked to play like them. She told the children that if they ever had questions, they could ask them.

Over the first year, Maureen helped us to develop and supported the use of [Maya’s] PECs system so that Maya could make choices of the activities at the Co-Op. A ramp was built, accommodations were made for Maya’s equipment, Maureen included sign in the morning circle, the kids had their questions answered, and Maya [was treated] just like another friend. Maureen… beautifully guided Maya’s aide on how to disappear when the children were interacting with Maya, to let them play. Maya had her first best friend at the Co-Op who would wheel her around in the little wagon, play sandcastles with her, and push her on the swing. It was a special place for Maya, but also for the other kids who have continued to grow up knowing her in our small valley.

[The Co-op is] a rich nursery school experience that sends children off to elementary school understanding difference and not being scared of it.

Thanks for your words, Ashley.

Mary Ferons writes:

[From the moment our daughter, Jane, was born,] it was clear [that] there were unexpected medical issues. She was rushed out of the delivery room and within two hours she was at UCSF. We stayed there for thirty days. They [conducted] many tests took many [blood] draws, and [completed] one surgery [before] we were allowed to go home. BUT before [we left], they tried to take [away] one last thing: hope. The doctors [told] us that Jane would never walk, never talk, never eat, and would have mental challenges. They told us not to expect much from her. Of all the things that could have entered a parents mind at that moment, the only things I could think of were:
• How was she going to be able to eat cake at a birthday party?
• And how would she be accepted at school?
• Could she even go to school?

[After] we got home we started an intense schedule of therapies [and medical] appointments. Jane had proven that she was strong, intelligent and capable. However, I got lost in the medical world that had become our life.

In the spring, after I felt the flu season had passed, Jane and I [attended] a playgroup held by the Napa Infant Program. I could hear other moms talking about being on the waiting list for their preschool of choice. I actually heard them discussing the St. Helena Co-op. It was time for me to start thinking about where Jane would go, but I had given up hope for that for her. Although Jane had shown her abilities, she was still very medically fragile. I was paranoid of her catching a cold (at that time it meant she could be in the intensive care at UCSF for a few days to a week). I didn’t think anyone would be skilled enough to handle her care in a classroom environment and after my experience in public school, [I didn’t] think that any teacher would want [Jane in their class.]

It was right around this time [that I got] a call from our caseworker at the Napa Infant Program… The St. Helena Co-op had an opening and wanted a child from the Infant Program to fill the spot in their Toddler program. I took the number, [called], and quickly got a call back from Maureen Kelly.

I explained our situation and my fears. Maureen was able to answer all of my questions. She was comfortable with my daughter’s abilities and knew everything I had mentioned about her medical needs and was comfortable with it all. I actually cried while she was telling me her experiences with children with [special health care] needs. I couldn’t believe that she was looking for us. Someone who ran THE best preschool program in the Valley WANTED my child.

We… had a fun year [in the Toddler program] getting to know other children, their families, [and the] Co-op. The following year, Jane started preschool… and she LOVED going to school… playing house, singing, and reading books were among her favorite things to do.

Jane is now successfully included in her first grade classroom, making lots of friends, and making lots of progress. Had it not been for that phone call with Maureen, I would not have sent Jane to preschool. [She] would not have had the opportunity to show her potential and she probably would not have been enrolled in elementary school.

Thank you for your words, Mary.

“Maureen doesn’t just accept and support children with disabilities at her school—she goes out and finds them, brings them in, and supports them and their families to be where they should be—in their communities.”

“Everyone, please welcome– Maureen Kelly.”

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