To some it may have looked like a normal ol’ Valentine’s Day party. But it took my breath away.
I had an overwhelming feeling that I was witnessing history…that the world was changing right before my eyes…that the walls had fallen and eyes had been opened.
I needed to photograph it, to save it, to somehow capture what was happening.
I begged for eye contact with other mothers, searching their face to see if they were seeing what was happening right there before our eyes — to our children. It was happening to our children…to their children.
They were being changed. They had already been changed, actually. At the party they were just living in their change. They were living changed. And it was so natural. So beautiful.
Did the children even notice it? Did they feel it? Did they remember what life was like before they were changed? Did they even realize it happened? Did they understand the magnitude of it? the implications of it? I don’t think so.
It was just their Valentine’s Day party. They were having fun with friends at the 6th grade party. There was food, Valentines, hearts, and cupcakes. There was a photo booth, props, paper plates, and Capri Sun. There was laughter and giggling and pushing and teasing. They were friends.
They. were. friends.
What I witnessed that day was a changed community. A changed community. 60-some-odd 6th graders who are forever changed. Forever different. And they were changed by my girl.
This group of children does life with Chloe. It doesn’t matter to them that she uses a wheelchair. It doesn’t matter to them that she doesn’t say much. She’s a part of the group, and they’re friends. She does life with them. They know her, and they’re comfortable with her.
They don’t greet her each morning because they pity her. They greet her each morning because she’s their friend.
They don’t get freaked out when Chloe gets intent on a mission and forgets to watch for their toes in her path; instead, they jump out of the way with a chuckle. They don’t stare when she cries out in class; instead, they ask her what’s wrong and encourage her to use her words. They don’t dismiss her when she makes noises with her mouth; instead, they use the context, look for clues, and figure out what she’s trying to say.
They listen to her. They know she has something to say, and they listen to her.
And these 6th grade boys and girls? They will someday be Chloe’s next door neighbor. They will someday be her doctor or her boss. They will someday be Chloe’s pastor. And they will know her. They will be comfortable with her. And they will listen to her.
They will stand up for her and will speak up for her … because they know her and they know what she’s saying.
These 6th graders aren’t like the kids at the mall who stop and stare at the sight of a girl using a wheelchair. They are no longer like the children in the store who act afraid when Chloe approaches them.
No. They are changed.
They are changed because they know Chloe.
Ask me if inclusion works. Ask me if I believe that all students benefit from inclusive education. Ask me if I think it will change the world.
Yes. Yes, yes, yes.
I just watched it happen. It happened over the last two years right in front of my eyes.
They. are. changed.
And these 6th graders? When they see a girl at the mall who uses a wheelchair? Will they stare? Will they be frightened if the girl smiles at them or acts interested in something they’re holding? Nope. I’m pretty sure they will smile at her and say, “Hello.” And I’m guessing a good number of them will shake her hand or give her a high-five. They may even stop to listen to see if she has anything to say. Because they are forever changed.