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Ben und Ellen!Yesterday my husband and I met with our daughter’s new teacher and her counselor after school. We reviewed Ellen’s strengths and areas for improvement as a young learner and as a girl finding her way in second grade.

Yes, the girl has Trisomy 21, also known as Down Syndrome. Yes, Ellen is already a trailblazer. Blessed with excellent health and a nimble mind, she has already achieved a great deal for any girl her age. She is a Brownie. She’s in a hula and Hawaiian Studies class on weekends. She is bilingual. She adores reading. She’s a pretty good speller. She’s being brought up in two faith traditions and attends a Sunday school. She’s embraced by the YMCA community, our family’s second home.

And for all that, she may need, at least for now, extra support, even one-on-one assistance in subjects like math.

I looked around the classroom where my daughter spends many days. The walls, decorated with children’s work, maps, and illustrations, protected us from the sudden downpour outside. The chalkboard, a multi-colored roadmap to navigating a second grader’s day, showed me one of many ways my daughter is being guided to her potential.

And then I took in the participants for our after-school conference, all members of Team Ellen: the counselor, like me, slowly graying at the temples, unlike me preternaturally calm, who stated why we were all there — “To reach agreement on what the next steps are to help Ellen reach her eventual goal: graduation from high school and her acceptance and graduation from college”; Ellen’s generous, smart teacher whose insights after knowing my daughter for just three weeks are right on the mark yet who looked grateful when I wanted to share more and who stated what she wants most for all her students: A Never Give Up Attitude; my husband, the definition of wisdom and clear, measured logic; and me, Mr. Wear My Heart on My Sleeve.

I held up pretty well, though. My relief turned into streams of gratitude for Team Ellen that began to overflow as much as the creek near our home rushed free past its traditional path as the rain continued.

I looked at my daughter this morning with more tranquility than I usually do. The rain had ceased hours ago. Ellen may stumble now and then, but I have a hunch she will be like me: a late bloomer and bit of an overachiever who is unexpectedly, and not entirely by choice, a trailblazer. She is lucky to have Team Ellen, which keeps growing every year, to help her stay on track.

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