guest post contributed by Kathleen Cail
The other day I called my sister and told her that most of the time, I feel like I am swimming upstream trying to build a truly inclusive community for my daughter. I told my sister that it is exhausting and it really is. I share my desires with teachers, staff, and other moms. I send information to teachers and staff about opportunities to learn more about Grace, the person, or about meaningful inclusion. These attempts often seem to fall on deaf ears. You know what I mean—the emails or messages go unacknowledged, as if maybe I’ll go away, or perhaps it’s the ostrich approach to “burying one’s head in the sand.” Occasionally though, the road less traveled is worth it and there are those golden moments, those amazing people who just like Grace for Grace.
I could have just had Grace spend most of her day in the resource room, with only special education students, but that is not what Grace has experienced throughout her school life, nor is it how she views the world. Instead, Grace is in the resource room for one subject and all other subjects she is in regular classrooms, with significant modifications. Grace is probably not learning some of the basic skills she needs, but there is no guarantee that by staying in the resource room, she would be learning some of the important things she is learning in the regular classrooms. Grace is learning to work in groups, studying subjects that interest her in a way that interests her, and more. Grace is learning social skills in the real world (for good and bad, just like her brother does). She has joined clubs like Yearbook and Key Club. Has Grace been fully embraced? No. Does Grace have girlfriends who invite her to do things on the weekends or accept her invitations? Just one and that is inconsistent. However, Grace has met a young man, with whom she went to homecoming, has seen the movies Frozen and Philomena, and has visited the Newport Aquarium. Grace and her friend are doing many of the things that high school students do. Most importantly, this young man just likes Grace and thinks she is fun. Recently, a student stopped me and told me that he sees Grace around the school and is hoping to catch her for lunch in the cafeteria some time. Neither of these young men would likely even know Grace, were she in the resource room all day.
Last week, Grace introduced a photographer at a talk. I invited every teacher and administrator in Grace’s school, and even at the district level, to come see Grace in a valued role and to hear this photographer speak about our shared humanity and seeing beauty in people who experience disability. One teacher acknowledged the invite, but couldn’t make it, one teacher showed up, and most importantly, the superintendent of schools came with his wife and daughter.
It would be great if there were one or two girls who would get to know Grace. It would be great if teachers and staff even acknowledged my attempts to inform them about Grace, or real inclusion. It would have been great if a few more teachers showed up to witness Grace introduce this photographer to over 160 adults and to hear the photographer’s important message. However, sometimes there are glimmers of hope – two young men who like Grace, because they think she is beautiful and funny, a teacher and a superintendent who show up. These “glimmers of hope” will sustain me for a while.