Sunday, September 16

Why Tommy should be in your classroom

"Take the first step in faith.  You don't have to see the whole staircase.  Just take the first step." 
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Edited 10/8/12 for how it will appear in P2P newsletter
Tommy and Liam started their Kindergarten education with a two hour “orientation” this September. This was provided by the three kindergarten teachers at our local elementary school. Each classroom was divided into half, with a morning orientation for half the students with their families, and an afternoon orientation for the other half of the students and their families.  Liam loved meeting his teacher, classmates and seeing his Kindergarten room which he would be in the next day. Tommy really enjoyed seeing the other kids and wanted to explore the room, touch everything and everyone, and walk the hallways.  Although they are twins, they are as different as day is to night. Both with their own beauty, both perfectly made, and both needed as a student in Kindergarten. I cannot say what the other parents at orientation were whispering or why they wanted to stare at Tommy. Maybe it’s because he is fairly loud at times. Maybe it’s their first time seeing a person with Down syndrome. I didn’t have time to ask them. But it felt as though I would be embarking on a journey where I had no handbook. Only the knowledge that Tommy is an individual. An energetic five year old boy. A brother, a son, a friend to most that he meets. A child that has a keen emotional intelligence, a boy that loves to play basketball. If those parents wondered “why” Tommy was there for orientation, maybe I would share with them these thoughts.

Today’s student body isn’t “typical or normal”. 2 out of 10 children have a mental health disorder. 1 out of 6 children have a developmental disability. 1 in 110 children have autism. 6 million children have food allergies, some
of them life threatening. Diagnosis is becoming more sensitive given modern science and services or therapies for those children more important. It’s harder to see a classroom of students without some of those students having special needs. Often invisible special needs. Our family shares an interest with all the other parents in the classroom to figure out how inclusion works. How Tommy can join the other students and learn and play and access his education. Inclusion isn’t impossible, it just takes teamwork. A sense of community needs to exist within the school and that classroom for inclusion to work. Parents and teaching staff all work together for inclusion to work.
If you are not focused on a classroom to include EVERYone then you are still practicing segregation.  History shows segregation based on gender, race, faith, disability.... only further marginalizes.   Societies that marginalize people, could also hate them.  "if he were in our classroom he would disrupt the lesson and ruin it for 26 students".  "he wouldn't be comfortable".  If you are a person who professes to be against bullying at school, but think that not allowing students from the Life Skills room into the general ed classroom is okay, you are condoning that SOME people are different and they don't belong.  That is a form of bullying.  It simply needs to be overcome at a very early time.... let's say Kindergarten.  Where kids can get a strong sense of EVERYones value and include each person in the day of fun and lessons. 
When done correctly, inclusion is great for every student and teacher and support staff. It’s a giant school and family community that celebrates strengths and works to even out the differences thru support. Children bring all kinds of gifts to this world. Different levels of intelligence, learning styles,
behaviors... and when working as one, it works. It will take parent volunteer hours and special hearts of teachers and support staff to make inclusion possible.

“ The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) was originally enacted by Congress in 1975 to ensure that children with disabilities have the opportunity to receive a free appropriate public education, just like other children. The law has been revised many times over the years. The most recent amendments were passed by Congress in December 2004, with final regulations published in August 2006 (Part B for school-aged children) and in September 2011 (Part C, for babies and toddlers). So, in one sense, the law is very new, even as it has a long, detailed, and powerful history. It’s a great law! Complicated, to be sure, but well worth understanding and implementing."  NICHCY - National Dissemination Center for Children
Most importantly, the IDEA is about making a community, a society, accessible to everyone. If a child has a peanut allergy, you are legally required to make his school safe. If a child has a behavior issue, you are legally required to create a safe environment. And as a parent I will volunteer and help in the classroom and with the staff as much as possible to make
this work. And in the process, friendships amongst children will be formed so that someday we won’t notice differences.

Maybe awareness of people who experience developmental delays needs to occur more in Kindergarten. Maybe starting at orientation. Maybe by a parent to other parents. Inform yourself, like I did, through some amazing girlfriends and research and then inform others. Tommy needs to be in your classroom!

Tommy is starting to learn the routines in his Life Skills classroom.  This classroom will provide differentiated instruction, mostly I believe thru discreet trial trainings and a specific curriculum.  Which will meet him where he is engaged and learning.  Then he will spend time, hopefully soon, with general ed Kindergarten for music, pe, recess, lunch.  And I can help the other parents understand why Tommy needs to be in the Kindergarten classroom.  Inclusion, do it, as much as you can. 

Liam is LOVING his Kindergarten experience, so many new friends and ideas. 

Tommy Adventures