Yo soy La Lay

adventures in family, faith, and Down syndrome

Dear Kellie

Dear Kellie,

(No, not you, Kelly. ¬†That’s another post for another day. ūüôā )

In an odd coincidence, perhaps foreshadowing what was to come, on the day that my OB called to tell me that my HCG levels were rising nicely and that I could expect this pregnancy to continue, I spent the day with you. ¬†Well before the words “Down syndrome” or “inclusion” or “least restrictive environment” were a part of my every day thoughts, before my life was catapulted in an entirely different direction, my task was to shadow you, an elementary school principal, so that I could learn about your position.

I had chosen your school because you had been highly recommended to me (one of the best, they told me) and because at the time, I knew that someday, Ellie and this little one growing in my belly, would walk the halls of your building as students.

I was nervous, having not stepped foot in an elementary building since I was a child myself.  But you were kind and helpful, welcoming me into your day and talking me through your usual schedule.

On the docket for our day was a family visit. ¬†This new family had just moved into the district, you explained, and while they lived within the boundaries of this building, one of the children had a disability. ¬†You explained to me that while the other two siblings would be able to attend your school, the littlest girl would need to be placed in another building, where children with her type of disability were housed, so that her needs could be met. ¬†You and I would travel to the other building, meet with the parents and the other principal, tour that school, and our goal was to help the parent understand why his daughter could not attend her home school. ¬†Her parents were pushing for her to stay at the home school, and in your words, that isn’t how things are done in your district.

I was floored.

Before I ever had Tessa, before I was as well-versed in the law as I am now, before this fight for inclusion had come the forefront of my mind, I knew this was wrong. I knew it. ¬†I didn’t understand how this child could be separated, segregated, away from her family, away from her neighborhood. ¬†At the time, I didn’t know enough to ask the right questions; I didn’t know to push you to think about this in a different way. ¬†But I knew it was wrong. ¬†And to be honest, I think you did, too.

It is because of this very day, that promptly after Tessa was born, we made a plan to move before she would go to school. My feelings on that day drive so much of what I do now.  I cannot even imagine how different that day could have been if I were to live it today.  Because today, I have a stronger voice, and I use it.  I wish, for that girl, on that day, I would have said something.  I suppose I can be thankful that God put me in that place, on that day, to prepare me to advocate in the future.  I understand that you have moved on from that building and pray that you are in a district that encourages you to promote education in the least restrictive environment for all students, as is required by law.  I pray that you no longer group students based on a diagnosis, and that you have grown in some small way to understand that segregation is wholly inappropriate for children to reach their potential.

All the best,

Maggie

img_9557

 

This is part of the 31 for 21 Blog Challenge ‚Äď blogging every day for the the 31 days of Down Syndrome Awareness month. ¬†To find out more about the challenge, and to see other blogs participating, click here.

This year’s theme has been inspired by the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network’s #deardoctor campaign.  To see more #deardoctor letters, visit their Facebook page here.

Leave a comment »

Advocacy #22: Inclusion Part 2

Students in the United States are guaranteed, by law, access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

Here’s a handy infographic that describes the definition of FAPE:

Graphic of At a Glance: Free and appropriate public education (FAPE)

School inclusion is the practice of educating students with disabilities alongside their typical peers.  They have access to the general curriculum (the stuff that all the kids learn) and it is modified to suit their learning needs and challenges.

Inclusion is not the same as mainstreaming. ¬†Mainstreaming involves teaching students with special needs in the same classroom, but with a different curriculum altogether. ¬†It is not the same as providing access to the general education curriculum (the stuff that all kids learn). For example, in an inclusive environment, all of the students might write a report about the water cycle. Typical students would write a three-page paper to describe what that is and why it is important. A student with special needs who struggled with paragraph structure might write a 5-paragraph essay of one page over the same topic. Both learn about the water cycle. Both write a paper. In a mainstream environment, the typical class is learning about the water cycle. Typical kids still write the three-page paper, but the student with special needs is tasked with coloring pictures of the water cycle. He is not learning about the water cycle, he is not accessing the general curriculum, he’s working on a totally different assignment while physically present in the classroom.

Not cool.

Research has shown time and time and time and time and time again that school inclusion has tremendous benefits for all students, whether they have special needs or not.

From Wrightslaw.com, a leading website for information on inclusion and the law:

There is a strong research base to support the education of children with disabilities alongside their non-disabled peers. Although separate classes, with lower student to teacher ratios, controlled environments, and specially trained staff would seem to offer benefits to a child with a disability, research fails to demonstrate the effectiveness of such programs (Lipsky, 1997; Sailor, 2003).

There is mounting evidence that, other than a smaller class size, “there is little that is special about the special education system,” and that the negative effects of separating children with disabilities from their peers far outweigh any benefit to smaller classes (Audette & Algozzine, 1997).

Students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms show academic gains in a number of areas, including improved performance on standardized tests, mastery of IEP goals, grades, on-task behavior and motivation to learn (National Center for Education Restructuring and Inclusion, 1995).

Moreover, placement in inclusive classrooms does not interfere with the academic performance of students without disabilities with respect to the amount of allocated time and engaged instructional time, the rate of interruption to planned activities and students’ achievement on test scores and report card grades (York, Vandercook, MacDonald, Heise-Neff, and Caughey, 1992).

The types of instructional strategies found in inclusive classrooms, including peer tutoring, cooperative learning groups, and differentiated instruction, have been shown to be beneficial to all learners. For example, Slavin, Madden, & Leavy (1984) found that math scores for students with and without disabilities increased by nearly half a grade level as a result of working in cooperative learning groups.

– See more at: http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/lre.incls.rsrch.whitbread.htm#sthash.Rl3VXxil.dpuf

Inclusive education, while widely accepted as the best way to educate all students, is not always common practice… especially not in the upper grades.

We’re on a mission to change that in our world.

Leave a comment »