Monday, September 13, 2010

School's out... and I'm stuck in the gym

It's only the fourth day of school and already my PM duty is starting to grind my gears. Every afternoon, I report to the gym to supervise students who wait there for their bus to arrive. There's about 40 PreK-8th grade students that wait in the gym for my assigned bus, and another 35 or so that wait for another bus on the other side of the gym. The gym itself is about the size of a run-down studio apartment. I am barely exaggerating. I know what you're thinking. "Aimee, why are you complaining? Having 70+ kids anxiously waiting for their four-wheeled ticket to freedom (which is always the LAST BUS to arrive) in a small, hot, loud stress chamber is a blast!" ...... I can't even make a witty, sarcastic retort for that, because that statement sums up the hell that is PM duty pretty darn well.

Regardless, as in all things, I try to find the positive: helping all the little lost Pre-K'ers find their way; watching an older "cool" girl hold the hands of two nervous kindergarteners on the walk to the bus; making a squirmy fourth grade boy who wanders and refuses to sit on the bench with the rest of the troupe sit in the middle of the gym floor to wait, then devising an incentive plan to help him keep his backside where it belongs (we're trying it tomorrow); getting waves and hugs from children I have never seen before; seeing that awkward middle school flirting hasn't changed since I was in school.

But by far the best experience I've had in PM duty thus far has involved M, a first grader with autism. M is a student who has a one-on-one aide throughout the school day to help keep him on task and keep him safe (he wanders, runs off without warning, and has difficulty navigating the stairs). Since the school year started, M has been without his aide, and has had random people filling in for parts of the day. Consistency and structure are hugely important for children with autism, and disruptions in their routine have the potential to be disastrous. M also reacts poorly to lots of commotion and noise. You may think that sitting in a gym with 70 other students would be a bad idea. You'd be right.

This particular day was very difficult for M. By the time dismissal came around, the woman who was his aide for the day had to leave to go to a doctor's appointment, so I volunteered to make sure M got on his bus safely. About the time I got M finally seated for more than 15 seconds (he repeatedly rolls on the floor), a little girl was dropped off in the gym and promptly starting crying because she was anxious to go home. I seated her next to M so that I could keep an eye on them both. M was quite startled to having a crying ball of Pre-K next to him, but turned to her looking quite concerned. What happened next made me all warm in my tummy. M started patting her forearm and wiping the tears from her cheeks with the crumpled paper towel she was holding. It was precious. And, for those of you who are familiar with autism know, children with autism can have great difficulty with social understanding, including interacting with peers and showing empathy, so to see M react to her in such a way was uncharacteristic and fantastic. Ahhh kids.

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