Kindergarten is a good time for inclusion. Children at that age are very accepting of differences. It was easy to get children to partner with Cara. Most of them enjoyed being selected to be her helper. That's not to say everything went smoothly, but when we did have bumps in the road, Melanie made it easy to call her and sit down and work through solutions. By the end of the year, Kerry and I were very pleased with the outcomes. Although Cara had not mastered all of the kindergarten academic skills, she had made good, consistent progress and she had certainly matured socially. She had learned to navigate the kindergarten classroom and playground. She had friends. And the other children in that class had learned from Cara. In fact they had learned the most. They had learned how to be helpful without doing it for her. They had learned empathy.
I kept up with Cara on and off as she went through school. I would run into Melanie every now and then after I left Alimacani for Chets Creek. I remember she called me once and told me that Cara had been invited to her first sleepover. I think we both cried. As the years went by, every year had its challenges, but Melanie stood strong as Cara's advocate. She was never unreasonable, but she would not be pushed around either. She stood firm when she needed to and compromised when she needed to. She actively sought out the best teachers and the best programs for Cara and left no stone unturned to help her along the way. When I got Melanie's e-mail that Cara had been nominated by her bowling coach to serve on this year's Homecoming Court, I cried. I couldn't have been prouder.
My hat is also off to the students at Fletcher. Many of them have known Cara since that first year at Alimacani. They have watched her grow and mature. I am sure they have seen her fall too, but they have also seen her pick herself up and with more determination than ever, take the next step. Many of them must have been willing to forgo a vote for a friend in order to make this dream possible for Cara. That shows a group of students who had the maturity to understand the bigger picture. The smile on Cara's face tonight says it all, but this is not only a victory for one little girl, it is a victory of an entire community. The Stieglitz family serves as an example of what can be accomplished when families and educators work together - when they can put aside their own personal needs and wants and do what is best for a child! Congratulations Queen Cara! May your reign be an inspiration to us all!