We need YOU! We need you on our side! We need you as advocates for our children! We can't do this alone!
I know some of you think that a child like Stella, who happens to have Down Syndrome with a side of Apraxia and Autism, doesn't belong in your general education classroom. I know that the reason you likely think that is because you are not trained to teach a child who you can't hurry through the system. This is not your fault. You also likely are saying to yourself, "I have too many children in my class, how am I suppose to focus on each one individually?" This is also not your fault. I'm sure you're also thinking that you don't have the resources or the help you need to give children like Stella the attention that she requires. Guess what, also not your fault.
It's not your fault, except that... if you aren't advocating for change, then you are adding to the problem. You are certainly not changing it for the better!
Now, think about this, what if you did have all of those things? What if you had the special education training that is now required by all new teachers in most states? What if you were qualified to teach ALL children? What if you had smaller class sizes, assistants and aids in the classroom. What if you had resources for adapting and modifying children's work, right at your fingertips?
This is what inclusion looks like in some areas of this country and even state! When are we going to change our public system so that ALL kids get the BEST education they all deserve? You can't tell me that with 30 children in one classroom that any of those kids are getting the best education they deserve!
The research is there, folks! It plain as day shows that ALL children learn better from an INCLUSIVE education. Not just kids like Stella, ALL children! So, what is it going to take to get our school system on board with this change? When are we going to make our general education classrooms the least restrictive environment?
We can't just throw them in the general education classroom with no resources. I've tried that, doesn't work. But sadly there is no ideal classroom for a child that learns at the pace mine does. Self contained is too exclusive. She needs to be around her peers, all peers because that is where she is going to learn how to interact in the real world. Pulling her out of a self contained room for gym class, music and art does not give her the interaction that she needs. But she also needs an individualized plan, adapted work, occasional one on one teaching time and time to regroup and feed her sensory diet.
I know what you're saying, "Geez Tammy, don't you think you're asking a lot?" ABSOLUTELY!! And the truth is, most of you would expect the same things for your child! The exception, is that most of you have never had to ask for it because this world caters to children like yours. The world is still trying to figure out what to do with children like mine! Hell, it's 2021 and people are still using the word "retard" or "retarded." People are still looking at kids like mine, pointing and laughing, asking questions like, "what's wrong with her?" NOTHING is wrong with her! She is exactly who she is suppose to be! What's wrong is our system of educating. How can people ever learn to live in a world with people who act, look and learn differently if we continue to separate them from the rest of the world?
Why is an entirely separate classroom from her peers our first answer to children who learn at a different pace? What are we teaching our "neuro-typical kids" when we completely separate the ones that are "different?" What are we teaching Stella?
Yes, I'm well aware of the pace my child learns but she is learning. It may be slower, it may be in her own way but she is learning and she is learning so much from her peers. I also have two teenage sons and I can tell you that each of them learn differently and at different paces than each other. Isn't it our differences that make us who we are? Let's embrace them and unite them.
So, what does this change look like?
Designated sensory rooms for breaks
Aids/assistants in the classrooms
Individualized goals and learning for all
Accommodations in the general education classroom (can we then just call it the 'Classroom")
Modifications when needed
Specialized training for our teachers
Occupational therapy in the classrooms (not consultations, but actual OT)
I know, I know, it all comes down to money! The truth is finances are not my thing but I'd venture to say that our district pays someone big bucks to figure all that out. So, let's band together to make a list of new priorities and put our kiddos with extra needs at the top of that list for a change!
I'm just one voice, but I'm hoping if I'm loud enough I can start an avalanche. Will you help stand up and advocate for our children? Will you be another voice? I need more than just agreeing with me, I need you, as educators to stand up and use YOUR voice to make these changes! Will you help me?