One Mother's Diary

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One mother's diary:  Letters sent and unsent to two elementary schools where her son Jason was enrolled as a person who required an aide but who was, according to the schools, considered to be fully included in the fourth grade

October 1, -----

Dear Rick and Mike (principals at the two neighborhood elementary schools, where Jason, her son, was “schooled” half days).

My ambivalence about how I could participate in helping Jason's teachers in two half-day school settings has kept me from providing helpful feedback.  I accepted the fact in September that I would not be taken seriously or really help, because the problem is not about Jason, or about any child who has severe handicaps, whose family wants him or her in the regular school setting.  It is about the teachers, the traditional ways and the attitudes of adults, not the kids.

It is in some ways very understandable, the reluctance of teachers and administrators to change present teaching arrangements, to alter schedules, and develop co-teaching and cooperative strategies. But regular education for all children is no longer new, and well-respected principals in the county have adapted it as a relatively tried and true concept. I was hoping you would both be taking leadership roles in promoting the advantages of inclusion. SENT

November 15---

Hi Mike---I am writing to ask that you to think about allowing Vivian Garfinkle or someone with extensive inclusion experience to conduct staff and faculty development training in the early winter, right after the break.  After years of teaching myself, and witnessing all the exclusionary practices that are used with Jason when he is at either site, I am telling you I was horrified to hear a teacher, at our meeting, say that she could not look at a severely handicapped child without pity and revulsion. What is she doing in a classroom anywhere?  An outrage!

Most children in school today have developmental delays or academic weaknesses or handicaps- most!  All children have some capacity to learn from each other, even children with little or no capacity to succeed in typical terms.  Everyday life experiences, including school, are vital bits of learning to children with severe handicaps.

Please start planning a series of trainings regarding the inclusion process now for the next school year.  It's already too late in the year for Jason!  He's been sick so much, and not in school half the time anyway, so I guess you are planning to leave him in the regular class?  The other kids really like helping the aide with Jason.  They like having him there. SENT

December 18---

After the holiday break, let me bring teachers to you who have made it work, or who are struggling, but realize it will work.  The idea of creating a me-versus-you confrontational situation between good, caring families and good schools is too out of date to be acceptable today, yet it is difficult to make inclusion work without help.  Please let a team of inclusion experts help you help the faculty and staff.  NOT SENT

May 1----

Dear Rick and Mike,

I realize it is hopeless to think that the teaching staff this year will include Jason in any part of the normal everyday curriculum. The routines do not include Jason.  All that happens is he is isolated in the corner of the room whenever all the kids do anything or go anywhere, except when they are listening to the teacher lecture them, then Jason is bought into the area where the kids have their desks in rows. The aide also takes him to the lunchroom with the other kids.

The law says every school must provide the least restrictive setting for all children.  I guess your teachers don't know about that, from the way they don't talk directly to Jason.  They talk about Jason to the aide. The kids ask the aide questions about him and tell him things as they roll his chair around the room, but the teachers treat him as if he is a non-person. Why do they do that?

I guess all the teachers feel is sorrow and pity toward him.  Jason is not subhuman.  He has feelings, but he can't tell you.  Do you know how much he is taking in?  The curriculum could be used, since he has an aide, and it's only for half a day in each school.

The science information and handwriting charts in the room could be larger for everyone to benefit; all the kids in fourth grade need to do multi sensory projects, and Jason could easily be part of a group project.  All the kids would like live plants and real animals brought in for their study of the natural world, and Jason loves animals and plants- living things. 

There could be a few library books in large print, which is good for the kids who are visually impaired. Jason can watch geography and biography videos, if he wears a headlamp, even if we don't know how much he really sees.

Why can't the resource room have PT and OT equipment that all the kids can come in and use when Jason is having therapy?  Extra physical exercise and general play with balls, bolsters and other manipulative materials, like puzzles are enjoyable to all kids. Children need other children.  That’s why Jason is there. I say it over and over- we don't know how much he is taking in, and he is no discipline problem whatsoever.

Could we collaborate on some training now for August when the teachers come back?  Please let me talk about inclusion fears. Teachers can be convinced, I know they can, even get committed to inclusion.  I have worked with lots of trainers, and one exercise I do is to have the teachers imagine they are in a wheelchair, and do not have the capacity to think at a normal level.  Then I ask the teachers, "What/who do you see and what/who do you hear, and what/with whom activities can you do?

The teachers begin to picture themselves as kids, and it's amazing what they come up with that fits right in with the normal school day.  Thanks for reading this; I know the year is almost gone, but I still have hope for next year.    Jason's mom SENT

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