Before I begin this post that no doubt many Teachers will be reading…. I write this blog how I speak so just a warning to your inner red correction pen. It’s also been a long decade or two since AP English so things maybe capitalized that shouldn’t, some things won’t be capitalized though it should. But I’m fairly confident I’ve used their and there correctly and my where, were, and we’re properly….. you have been warned =)
Ok so for all the Meadow Elementary or Waugh School District peeps you already know most of what I’m about to write but I feel like a need to give some backstory for those that aren’t fortunate enough to be in the Waugh School District.
When I was in school kids with disabilities (for the most part) were separated from the general education students. I feel like I didn’t get an opportunity to learn first hand from students with disabilities so as an Adult when I started to be introduced to such I had lots of curiosity. How can I help? What should I do? What shouldn’t I do? What can I say, what can’t I? I’ll never forget the first week my first born went to school. My first experience in an elementary school since I was there myself as a student. Through the halls there were a small handful of students with various physical, social, and or mental disabilities entering the same classrooms as the general education students. I was so happy to see it but it wasn’t normal for me, I didn’t expect it just based on my elementary experience (we won’t mention how long ago that was) As the year went on I was touched in so many ways watching how wonderful the impact of such an integration had on the students. Now, I completely understand that full inclusion isn’t for every student. I have learned that there are some students it works well for and some that it just isn’t in their best interest to be integrated in such a way. But when it does, its so wonderful. But man it does not become that way with out teams of people and tons of hard work from the Parents, the Teachers, the Administrators, and Students. But when, as a community the work is done, the result for our children is nothing short of spectacular.
There are many amazing students at our school. But one little boy especially stood out to me. He is in a wheelchair, has apraxia of speech, and yet seemed to be the most popular kid on the playground. Always surrounded by kids. Mind you back when we first started at the school Milan was in 3rd grade. Those kids were all about running wild and being free. Yet anytime I’d be out on the playground I would see kids stop in their tracks to play with him, say hello, give him a high five, help him with his chair, then go on about their business.
Fast forward a year or so….I was fortunate enough to get to observe a cool robotics demonstration in his class last year. What I experienced in that class touched my heart so deeply. I wish I could tell some story of heroism or some big fabulous tale as to why. But it wasn’t something big it was just purely observing the littlest of things. The lesson at hand required the kids to be on the carpet to work. Like nothing one girl walked over and helped Milan and his Aid get him to the carpet. Then moved his chair out of the way. She wasn’t asked, she wasn’t that week’s designated Milan helper. She just wanted to do it. Later a kid noticed he was inching toward his chair so they went and grabbed it for him. When the teacher asked a question about the lesson, Milan raised his hand. She called on him. Now this sounds fine, what’s the big deal about that Jenn? But Milan has apraxia of speech which means he takes a very long time to get a thought out and when it comes out its very difficult to understand. It comes out very jumbled up. At first to me I didn’t think it was something anyone could even interpret it was just random noises. But the entire class of 4th graders sat patiently, listening to every sound. No one laughed, no one even dared to speak to their neighbor while Milan was talking. Then as he would finish a sentence a kid would translate or his aid would translate. It was fluid, normal, as if he was no different than anyone else in the class. The kids have been in the same grade level as Milan since Kindergarten. So they’ve learned how to learn with him. They learned patience, humility, compassion, and community all because of him. All because of how the Teachers integrated him, how his Aid assists him, and how Kari (his Mom) helps make everyone feel comfortable around him. True team work. I walked out of the classroom and broke down. It brought me to a slow, ugly, cry.
I think no matter how much time has gone on since being introduced to Milan and seeing his impact on our children I’m always in awe when I get to see it in action. But I’m not quite sure why today I expected it to be any different. Today was the fun run. One of our big fundraisers of the year. The kids have a blast. The amazing coordinators set up three small loops on the blacktop and the kids get the opportunity to run these little loops for an hour. The goal is 35 laps (each lap is like 1/15th of a mile) they get a mark on the back of their t shirt each time they complete a lap. They all have so much fun with it, each in their own way. So Milan’s class came out onto the blacktop and I expected that Milan would get wheeled around like he does at recess any other day. But then I saw them helping him into this other wheelchair that appeared to help him stand and it had slightly larger tires and handles. His Mom is an amazing volunteer who is always around helping at school so I walked over to her to ask what it was. She said it was something he hated. It was extremely hard for him. It puts a lot of pressure on his hips and is very hard for him to maneuver, more so than his regular wheelchair. It requires a lot more effort and its harder on his body. But it allows him to essentially stand/walk with the rest of the kids. I took it as the kids running is harder on them than walking, it’s a good exercise. For Milan this was his challenge it was his work out his exercise (and he hates exercise as much as I do). You could tell by the poor kids face he wasn’t all that excited to be in this thing. You could see how hard it was because it took him a really long time to get along.
My job at the fun run, go figure, was to take photos. I usually picked a spot on each loop, camped out and let the kids run past my camera as I took photos. As I did that kids run through my little stretch of the loop in 3 quick seconds but once Milan got onto my little stretch he was there for quite a bit longer since it took him a long time to move forward. I think the entire class lapped him before he ever passed me. Not ONE kid passed him with out telling him good job! Keep going Milan! Great job Milan! Yayyeee Milan!!! EVERY SINGLE KID EVERY TIME. You could see it in his face that it motivated him to keep going. Then his Teacher (one of my favorites….shhhh I’m not suppose to have favorites! ) walked over to him and started walking backwards cheering him on. Then she walked over and whispered to him “look lets get to that spot right there, there’s a hill and you’ll just coast down” she pointed over to a little short cut in the lap through the volleyball court where the blacktop took a quick little dip. Sure enough Mrs. Nixon finds herself in the volleyball net as she walked backwards encouraging him on and that makes Milan crack up but just as he starts to giggle he feels the chair hit the decline and he started just rollin at a good pace. The look on his face was classic! I think that his few laps around were more than enough for him (pretty sure I couldn’t have completed one!) so he returned to his regular chair. But rightfully so he was exhausted! So rather than pull over the extra few feet to the mark off station to get his tally on his shirt he just began to sit and not roll. One of the kids with out even a hesitation grabbed his hand and pulled him over to get his mark on his shirt. It was just another example of how these kids don’t even think about it, they just genuinely love one another. I don’t know there is just something about how fluid it always is with those kids and Milan. They go about their business yet include him at the same time. They don’t all stop what they are doing and only do what Milan can do. They have this natural way of including him while still doing their thing. He isn’t their mascot or their special friend they need to treat differently because they are told to. He is their friend. Their best friend in some cases. It’s hard to put to writing. It just is what it is. I guess it’s just something you feel when you see it.
Today was pretty cool so as I was going through the photos I just had to share this. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed taking them….
In case you are all still reading I have to say thank you to my clients. You are all so wonderful to me and show me such support. If it weren’t for you I wouldn’t have a successful business that provides for my family. If that were not so I would not have the opportunity to volunteer at my kids school and experience these wonderful things. So thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me this gift that I will never take for granted.