Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"I Do Believe, I Do Believe, I Do, I Do, I Do...."

I told you last year that after a school career that was always to some degree inclusive (at least half the day), we moved my daughter to a special education program at a special education school... This was a huge change. It was a big change for my daughter and it was a seismic shift for me!

The good news is it is going great! Jenn LOVES her school. She loves her teachers, she loves her friends, she loves everything except math (which she didn't like before either!) She loves going out on the town for social things and for work experiences. She is a cheerleader and she's active in everything they have going.

She is more independent at so many things.  She self-advocates much, much more. And she is making academic progress. It has been a very good move.

And yet...

Sometimes I feel pretty guilty about changing... and sometimes I feel completely misunderstood. One friend who has never believed in inclusion shocked me by saying "Terri used to believe in inclusion, but now she's seen the light!"

GRRRRR!! And all I could do was stammer and stutter ineffectually finally coming up with with, "Nu-unh!"

(So there!)

Can I have a do-over? Please?

First of all, more than I have ever believed in inclusion, I believe in choice and individualization.

Secondly, I absolutely do still believe in inclusion. I have always believed that people are healthier, happier and safer when they belong, when they are known and cared about in their community. And how can one become known or cared about without being present--at the very least, visible--in that community?

This hasn't changed. Honest.

Inclusion is a process, not a religion that one can be excommunicated from (exclusion from inclusion, really??) We believe Jenn is becoming more 'includable' because of the education she is currently receiving. That's why we chose it. We absolutely will have to work harder for relationships in our community to happen for her, and we know this.

What I truly wish is that I could name and quantify the very positive things that are happening at this new school so they could be applied in other places....

Here's what I have noticed so far:
  • The prevailing culture seems to be about growing the kids' world. It is much easier to build a smaller and smaller world for kids like Jenn, but that is NOT what we want. They seem to start with what she can do and then ask how could she do more. It is much more common to hear things like "she does well in small groups so let's give her lots of small group stuff."  Here they seem to say "she does well in small groups, how can we enlarge that?"
  • They work hard at having a safe environment, but they are not obsessed with protection (protection is the consummate small world maker--it's also an illusion, but that's a post for another day!) They also work hard on teaching strategizing, self-advocacy and resilience. It's a good balance, I think.
  • They aren't afraid of the kids' emotions. When I toured the school the principal told me "Drama is where social skills are learned!" This is the absolute truth, if you think about it! The idea of sharing is easy, sharing when you REALLY don't want to is what really matters!  Values/principles become real only through being challenged. I have to say that at our district school there were no real challenges--if Jenn had taken someone's seat or something the adults would intervene, but the kids would pretty much say it was ok... She's seen as a more of member here, I think, so she's fair game!
  • They practice differentiated learning and have not yet asked me, "But why does she need to learn that..." Some kids there are much stronger academically than Jenn, and some are not and the expectation is that they will all participate in every lesson I have seen.
  • They seem to take a facilitation approach instead of either 'letting her be there' or 'taking care of her.'
I do know the place isn't perfect. And Jenn has definitely experienced many of these things before...  I am just trying to analyze what I see. What are the ingredients that make a program work for you or your child?


Anonymous said...

"I believe in choice and individualization." Under which is the option of inclusion.

Just like I am opposed to the same treatment technique for every child (promoted by those who sell said technique) I am opposed to people who think all inclusion and only inclusion.

Happy Jenn is having good results in the imperfect special school. Hope you can throw-off that guilt, Terri.


Anonymous said...

I love this post Terri. You are right on the money. We have to make so many hard decisions to clear a path that makes sense for our kids! It's no one's job to judge based on a narrow ideology. Inclusion is supposed to open up the world not narrow it down.

karen r said...

Now if only "regular" schools were more like Jen's!

Terri said...

Thank you all. I agree that there is no one path and judgement doesn't help any of us. I do understand the parents who push for all inclusion under some circumstances--it's a negotiating strategy I have used because in some situations if you push for all you might get some--and if not you will get none! I agree, none of the things I have observed so far couldn't be implemented in other places...