Three Years Later

By Meredith Englander Polsky
In Original Articles

Written by Meredith Englander Polsky,
Matan’s National Director of Institutes and Training

6 year old; Matan

Remember Lucy? Exactly three years ago, I wrote about her experience in Jewish day school. Two years ago, I wrote about her transition to public school in the context of Rosh Hashanah, providing insight into how the Jewish community can recognize the value of each individual. Shortly thereafter, Lucy discovered that she could “google” herself – and I stopped writing about her!

Lucy is now ten years old, about to complete fourth grade, and I can’t help but write about her again (this time with her permission!). Lucy is my inspiration, and it occurs to me that by sharing her story she could be someone else’s inspiration, too.

Seven years ago, Lucy was diagnosed with Selective Mutism, a social anxiety disorder in which a child can speak perfectly fine in some environments, but becomes “mute” in other situations. For Lucy, that meant she could speak in our own home (as long as nobody else was with us), but not in any other aspect of her life. She didn’t speak to teachers, friends, grandparents, cousins, doctors or anyone else – and she usually didn’t speak to me if we were in earshot of another person. It was an excruciating existence for all of us, knowing she would not speak up for herself (not even with a gesture or a cry), whether she was hurt, sick, sad or just needed help opening her lunch.

We were fortunate to be able to provide Lucy with the best intervention possible, traveling 5 hours from our home state to get her the help she needed to overcome her Selective Mutism. Lucy went to kindergarten with the ability to speak in school.

Her school anxiety remained, however, and was largely misinterpreted as “attention problems”, “learning disabilities” or just plain “too complicated”.  From my professional experience, I know this is all too common.

Public school, in our admittedly limited experience, provided an environment and a faculty that “got” Lucy. If she was struggling they told me, “Here’s where she is, here’s where we want her to be, and here’s how we’re going to get her there.” Their confidence in their abilities – and in Lucy’s abilities – have made all the difference in the world.

Today I got an email from Lucy’s 4th grade teacher: “It has been a joy to see Lucy grow in confidence and in her academics. I have no doubt that she will excel nicely in 5th grade. As a result of her hard work and great character, she will be receiving the Service Award on the last day of school. I hope you can attend!”

The little girl who couldn’t walk through a room because it meant crossing in front of other people will walk across the stage in front of 1,000 people to accept her award.

Yes, I can attend. I will be the one in the front row in awe of my daughter who has taught me everything I know about persistence, perseverance and resiliency. “Service Award” deserving, indeed.