Holli Griggs-Harjo watched her children jump on a trampoline in July at her home in Seminole and smiled. This is what she wants: her daughter, Hayden, and son, Taylor, together.
“Drop Taylor, drop,” said Hayden, kicking her legs out and bouncing on her bottom. Taylor jumped in place, glancing down at his sister on the black bouncy surface.
Griggs-Harjo's 11-year-old twins shared the womb for nine months, but not the same fate. Hayden thrives in basketball and softball, gets good grades and enjoys summers with her friends. Taylor was born with Down syndrome and autism. He has never spoken a full word.
“He was picked for me,” she said. “With Taylor, you don't take everything for granted. You think about things a lot more.”
Griggs-Harjo has adjusted to the things she can't control: the stares from strangers in restaurants, the nonverbal cues Taylor shows to tell her when he's thirsty or wants to go to bed.
But she said raising Taylor has made her intuition strong and her fight to do what's right for her children even stronger.
That's why she's standing up to Seminole Public Schools this fall.
Their long-standing policy dictates that Taylor, who will enter his first year of middle school in August, must transfer to Bowlegs Middle School, in Bowlegs Public Schools, to receive his special education classes.
Griggs-Harjo, a graduate of Seminole High School, said that will not happen.
“My kids are twins. I want them to be raised in the same building, in the same school,” she said. “I'm not OK with shipping them off. They would never ship my daughter off to a different school for her education. But the children in special education, they don't think twice about doing it.”
League of Their Own
Griggs-Harjo already consolidated the developmentally disabled community in Seminole. In 2009, she started A League of Their Own, two softball teams composed of developmentally delayed children. In spring, they play each other once a week. Each player is assigned a buddy who helps the player swing, field and run the bases. They don't keep score. That's not what's important.
“When you watch them smile and when you see all the buddies, it's unbelievable,” she said. “Immediately after, they ask where they can sign up next year. That's what it's about.”
Hayden's eyes well with tears when she thinks about her brother on the softball diamond, playing alongside her.
“He is different from other people,” Hayden said. “It's just really cool to see my brother play different games that normally he wouldn't be able to.”
Griggs-Harjo has brought in players from Seminole County, Maud, Shawnee and Holdenville. They all want that chance for togetherness in Seminole County.
“I feel like as I'm building my child here, I'm building Seminole for my child,” she said. “That's what I want.”
Adapting to change
The special education program in Seminole County is in a co-op with all 10 school districts in the area.
Taylor went to preschool and kindergarten 20 miles from home at Konawa Elementary in Konawa Public Schools. He's spent the last five school years at Northwood Elementary, which is part of Seminole Public Schools.
Per tradition, a stop at Bowlegs is next. But Taylor's made his home in Seminole Public Schools. When he walks onto the playground, the other kids don't stare at him; they line up for high fives and fist bumps.
“I'm not thinking of just Taylor in this. I want the other kids to be around Taylor,” Griggs-Harjo said. “It changes them when they go to school with a child like him, all the way through. He's a part of them, and they're a part of him.”
That's why Taylor won't be in Bowlegs this fall. He'll be back at Northwood. Griggs-Harjo said she has set up an Individual Education Plan with Taylor's teacher and the principal to keep him in Seminole Public Schools for another year.
But there's no guarantee Taylor will be at Northwood after the sixth grade. When the time comes to make a decision about Taylor's long-term future, Griggs-Harjo is confident the right choices will be made, leading to her son and daughter graduating under the same roof.
“Jeff Pritchard, who is now the superintendent, was my teacher,” she said. “He's got to look me in the face and tell me he's not going to provide something for my child.”