Above all, I remember Leila as a warrior for her kids.
I first met her four years ago, when she brought her younger son to my first kindergarten classroom. She was such a blessing to our classroom community–a strong, loving presence that all children responded to, and a dedicated helper when help was needed. Throughout the year, Leila challenged me to become a better teacher through the conversations we had: she impressed me with her commitment to learning and doing everything that could be done to help her son thrive.
Leila was a passionate advocate for my classroom and my school. She understood the inclusion model, in which children with disabilities learn in the same classroom as their typically developing peers, and she worked tirelessly to help other parents understand and appreciate it as well. The qualities she wanted her son to develop in such a classroom–empathy, understanding, initiative, respect–were qualities she herself exemplified and brought out in others. Even in the throes of her struggle with cancer, Leila made the time to speak for inclusion, and to speak for Tilden school, because she wanted for her sons in particular what she also wanted for our general world. A community. A place to grow together.
Leila’s littlest boy grows every day, and I feel blessed to still know him. He has his mother’s beautiful curly hair and the same fierce intelligence; there are so many perfect parts of Leila still moving through the world in the bodies of her sons. As I grieve her loss, I take comfort in knowing that Leila’s shown me exactly what she’d want me to do–to join with my community in making the world a better and more welcoming place for her children and all children.