Posts Tagged ‘special ed’

Flooding Tears

I recently visited a local high school with a friend. Her son who has Down syndrome will be a student at this school next year. The transition to high school is a big one. She and her family have been working on this transition for years, fighting the status quo in our state, which is to keep kids with significant disabilities in special classes away from their non disabled peers.

Special classes for kids with disabilities are called self-contained classes. Self-contained as opposed to mingling about and switching teachers, classrooms, and subjects throughout the day. Typically these self-contained students stay in one classroom all day long and receive their instruction from one teacher with the help of several aides. Sometimes the students in these classes are allowed to go to elective classes or lunch with other kids. But for the most part, they are kept hidden away in private classrooms without any interaction with non disabled students.

My friend and I and several other friends of ours have been fighting against this status quo for years. We believe that our children should be educated right alongside peers who do not have disabilities. We believe that the positive peer pressure from being with these students and the friendships with these other students are life-giving and important. We believe that even if our children can’t demonstrate that they are learning everything the other students are learning, they deserve to be exposed to everything the other students are learning. The difference is literally as plain as our children still learning about the calendar and the weather and counting to 30 in high school instead of learning about the Periodic Table or the Cell Cycle. (Disclaimer: perhaps that is a simplified example, but it is true to what I have witnessed and heard about in Texas high schools)

So the other day while visiting this local high school, my friend and I stood talking in the entryway to the school, right outside of the front office. We stood in an active, busy thoroughfare of the main hallway of the school. We watched groups of students filing to lunch and to the library; then we watched students filing from lunch and on to class. The students, of course, came in waves as the passing periods came and went in the middle of the day. I love teenagers so I enjoyed watching them come and go, laughing or joking or cutting up as they went.

But then, surprisingly, when the hallway was quiet since it was not a main passing period, a group of about 8 or 10 students came parading by. A couple of them were holding hands with teachers and being led down the hall. It became clear that this was the special education class. The self-contained class. The kids with disabilities. The hall was empty except for these few students. They didn’t even pass paths with their typical peers during passing periods. They didn’t even see other kids on their way back from lunch. It was just them in the empty hallway.

My friend and I watched silently.

“Oh my gosh,” I finally whispered. It was as though I had been punched in the gut. I could not breathe as I watched them walk by.

And then the tears came. And they came hard.

Now, I am not a crier. I don’t cry. But here, in the entryway of this high school, I started crying. And I couldn’t stop. I think I mostly controlled my heaving breaths that were trying to escape my lungs as I tried to control my tears, but the tears certainly came.

It broke my heart. It made me angry. It made me sad.

And the emotions flooded.

This. This is why we fight. This is why we work so hard to get inclusion for our kids. This is why we help families. This is why we spread the word that inclusive education is important.

I was overwhelmed with the injustice of it all — the injustice that somehow these students were deemed unworthy to be learning with the other students. The realization that without loud, vocal, fighting mamas– this is exactly where our kids would be, separated from the rest of the world, parading down the hall with these students all the way to their private classroom, away from the other students and away from the rich learning taking place in those other classrooms.

And I realized that all the nights I complain about helping Chloe with her difficult homework from her 9th grade biology class or her Algebra I class, I should have been so thankful that she had the opportunity to learn biology and algebra instead of being ushered down the hall away from those subjects. All of those nights of hours of homework with her are worth it!

That hard World Geography semester review that had frustrated me the night before? I was suddenly so very thankful that Chloe and I were able to struggle through it. Because the alternative is no homework, no world geography, and no inclusion.

That parade of students showed me, reminded me, that everything we do and everything we’ve done has a purpose and it’s all worthwhile. All the fighting, all the work, all the rocking of the boat and questioning the norm has a purpose. We are fighting so that our children won’t be a part of that parade that passes by after all the other kids are in class. We are fighting so that our children can learn everything that the other kids are learning. We are fighting so that when a friend mentions their 3-D cell project or the Periodic Table, our children will know what the heck they’re talking about.

Yes, the tears came. And, yes, it was awkward and embarrassing. But the tears and the emotion were strong enough to remind me of the importance of our fight. The emotion reminded me why we speak up. And the emotion reminded me what we’re fighting for and what we’re fighting against.

I believe that my kids have the right to be educated right alongside the other kids. And I believe that ALL KIDS have the right to be educated right alongside the other kids.

I only wish I could help more students. I only wish I could convince more families to fight. I only wish I could stop that private and sad parade going down the hall while the rest of the world is off learning together.

Oh, how I want to change the world. Oh, how I want to change the status quo.

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All in a Day’s Work

How do you prioritize when everything is ultimately important? when everything is #1?blue #1

How do you choose to spend your time when the whole list consists of urgent items?

Do you choose to breathe first or to make your heart beat first? They’re both critical.

That’s how I feel with trying to prioritize what to focus on with Chloe. How do I spend my time and energy when the needs are all so great? Where do I start? Where do I begin? Where do I focus?

Communication is #1 because everything else depends on it. If Chloe doesn’t have a way to communicate her wants and needs…if she can’t relate and give her opinion then what??

But her legs working enough to walk across the room is #1. Remaining functional enough to be on her feet when she wants to be is vital. It’s a skill and ability that we are fighting to keep. The battle against her tightening, weakening legs is one we have to fight with gusto.

black #1Her performing and succeeding in school is also #1. If she’s not successful in school, then her teachers won’t take her seriously. If we don’t work to find ways for Chloe to express what she knows…if we don’t empower her with the ability to express her knowledge, then how…how…? So this ever-growing pile of homework is top priority.

But what about practicing and exceeding in cello? It’s imperative that she grow her talent. It will allow her to be part of a “team” in orchestra in junior and high school. She loves it; she’s good at it. Her playing music speaks to people …speaks to her.

Independence and growing in work/chores/responsibility has to be #1. Self-feeding, personal hygiene skills — It’s those huge skills that will lead her to independence in life. Those skills will pave the way for self-care later in life. It’s ultra important for Chloe’s success.

Encouraging and growing her friendships should be a high priority. She has friends who love and enjoy her; inviting friends over and helping those relationships grow are key. Friendships will deter loneliness.

I. Can’t. Do It. All. There are 24 hours in the day.

What do you do when they’re all a #1 priority?

 

The Bigger Picture

I cried several times yesterday after hearing from a friend who has a young daughter who lives life with multiple disabilities. The young girl attends public school and is in a program that educates her in a special education classroom part of the day and then includes her in the general education classroom part of the day. How’s that working for her? Well, unfortunately, my friend received news that it is somewhat of a fail, apparently.

Inclusion. It means different things to different folks. To some it just means sharing the same location or the same room. To some it means visiting now and then. To some it means sneaking in the door occasionally, grabbing the closest desk to the door, and sitting there for a few minutes. To some it means allowing a student to participate in PE or music.

To me, inclusion means to be a part of the class. Not a visitor. Not a “friend from down the hall.”  Not the Inclusion Kids.

Inclusion means to be a member of the group. Equality, inclusion.

I received Chloe’s class picture yesterday. I spent nearly ten minutes looking at it. Looking at Chloe, sitting a little awkwardly next to the teacher, and noticing she’s not the only one who appears a little awkward. 😉 Looking at the teacher who truly adores and values my daughter. Looking at the girls — self-proclaimed friends of Chloe. Looking at the boys and the principal who all just accept Chloe as another one of the girls. Looking at Chloe’s aide who believes in Chloe and is only surprised when Chloe doesn’t succeed on a task. Looking at the class. The group. And knowing Chloe is a part of the group. I couldn’t stop looking.

It made me think of years past when Chloe wasn’t in the general education class photo. I remembered the years when I was surprised when I received Chloe’s class photo. The photo wasn’t what I expected. Chloe and six or eight other kids who receive special education services appeared in a tiny class photo with each other — set apart, segregated, separated, symbolizing how the school truly felt about them … about her. Knowing that the other girls in Chloe’s grade were taking home a completely different photo that didn’t include Chloe.

But this year is different. This year she is included. This year she is truly part of the group. And I couldn’t stop looking at the photo. I loved it. It warmed my heart and made me so thankful — so thankful for the teachers, the aide, the staff, the principal, everyone who has worked hard to make sure that Chloe is a part of the group. I was thankful.

Literally not an hour later, I heard from my friend who gave me the news that broke my heart. Her young daughter, who on paper was “included,” as it turns out was not truly included. She was not a part of the class.

It seems that on class picture day, the general education teacher asked the special education teacher if her class could take a photo with my friend’s daughter and a photo without her.  And so it happened that a photo was taken with her, and then (again symbolizing the teacher’s heart for “inclusion”) a photo was taken without her — a more accurate photo of her class.

And to make it worse, my friend’s young daughter heard the whole thing and was aware that she was left out of one of the photos.

To be honest with you, I hardly even know this friend’s daughter. I’ve only been around her a handful of times. Why in the world did I cry as much as I did if I hardly know her?

I think the answer is that when you believe so hard in something — like equality and inclusion and dignity for individuals who have a disability — and then you see it so totally fail … it tends to absolutely crush your hope. That blow means we are still so far away from reaching inclusion, from reaching a society that accepts my daughter and accepts my friend’s daughter.

I was crushed. I cried again later as I told Paul the story of the two class pictures.

Having so little hope, where do I go from here?

I pray that this teacher … and other teachers who are still completely in the dark about what it means to include a human being simply because she’s a human being … would be changed. I pray that something would happen to change them.

I know my advocacy and my speaking up will help with some change. I have dear friends who are speaking up with me and advocating with me. We will make our voices heard. But we are so few … and stories like this make the effort seem utterly hopeless.

I really want this world to be different for my kids!! I want it to be different for my grandkids!

My heart hurts — literally aches — from stories like this one. But I have to believe that my/our efforts will pay off. They will make a change.

I have to believe it. I do believe it. I believe that change can and will happen. I believe that situations and hearts and beliefs will change.

It happens. It sometimes happens. Doesn’t it?

Yes, it does. In fact, I have Chloe’s class photo to prove it!

ChloeClass2013

I will continue to fight and advocate and speak up. And if I have to look at Chloe’s class photo everyday as motivation, then that’s what I’ll do!

How High??

I’ve said a million and one times that my girl would love to sit in the corner and play with baby toys all day everyday. She would also love to convince everyone that that is all she’s capable of.

Chloe is a smart little girl, and she’s amazing at fooling people — and she’s equally amazing at “reading” people.

How many times have I said that if you succeed at getting my girl’s heart, she’ll do anything for you? I’ve said it over and over and over. If Chloe knows you care about her and that you believe in her, then she’ll work for you and obey you. If Chloe doesn’t think you care about her … if she knows you don’t think she can do it, then I can promise you she won’t do whatever it is you have asked her to do. It’s how she ticks!

A great example of this is to compare last school year to this school year. Night and day! Last year, Chloe’s teachers were convinced that she knew nothing and was not capable of succeeding. They were convinced that she couldn’t read and couldn’t comprehend. They were convinced that Chloe did not belong in the general education classroom. And guess what? Chloe lived right up to their expectations. The result? A terrible year for everyone and a little girl who did exactly what her teachers expected of her, unfortunately.

Compare that to this year’s absolute opposite experience. The teachers and Chloe’s assistant are convinced that she knows it all. They are convinced that she can do and that she can read and that she can understand and that she can succeed. And they work hard at helping Chloe belong in the general education classroom. And guess what? Chloe is living right up to their expectations! This year miraculously (NOT!), Chloe is reading at grade level. Chloe is writing paragraphs. Chloe is succeeding. And the difference truly is the expectations and the heart of the staff of people working with her this year.

The moral of the story? We must be careful not to sell anyone short. We must always assume competency and act accordingly.

And just know that if you ever tell my little girl to jump, expect her to ask in her own way, “How high?”  And you can be sure that she will jump precisely according to your answer ….

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