I graduated from high school in 1972. As an elementary school student (1960-1966), I was taught in a three-room schoolhouse. First and second graders were housed in one room, third and fourth in another, and fifth and sixth in the other. We had less than 10 kids in most of the grades, so each room and teacher had around 20 students. We were grouped into one big class and our teacher used many strategies to cope with our diverse abilities.
One of my classmates had learning challenges. Her name was Sharon (not her real name) and she was cognitively impaired with a seizure disorder. We all knew Sharon was “different,” but no one made a big deal about it. We were all taught what to do in the event that Sharon had a seizure. And many of us were assigned to be Sharon’s helpers. I have a distinct memory of sitting with Sharon by the swings with some library books, helping her finish her reading lessons. And since she lived down the street from me, I went to her house on many occasions to work together on homework. Sharon was in the same classes with me all the way through high school and accommodations and modifications were made for her long before the law required it.
Sharon popped into my mind today because I’m home visiting my parents and am sitting outside looking at the old schoolhouse (Gibbsville Elementary School, 2016).
My task for today is to figure out how to advocate for a student who uses AAC (SWUAAC) in order to help a school administrator decide IF this SWUAAC will be accepted into their school. It is a small, private school that prides itself on their professional standards, and they have never had a student enrolled who uses an AAC system.
I’ve had several phone conversations with the administrator who is skeptical about the communication and academic abilities of the SWUAAC. Plus, he’s “concerned” that the other students would be “held back” in their education because of the SWUAAC. I was prepared for these concerns since I’ve heard some version of them for 30+ years. I provided the administrator with the “objective data” he insisted upon that documented the communication and academic abilities of the augmented communicator. I’ve described all of the SWUAAC’s communication strategies, and outlined the accommodations and modifications used to help him complete academic requirements. He’s been sent video testimonials from teachers and peers from the student’s current school, attesting to the benefits they derived from having the SWUAAC in their school. And since he wants objective research, not “subjective, emotional pleas” (his words, not mine), we’ve sent several articles about the benefits to all students when children with disabilities are included in general education classrooms.
But the administrator is NOT convinced. He’s read through all the information and watched the videos, but “from his personal experience,” still doesn’t believe that it is in the best interest of the SWUAAC to attend his school.
What “personal experience” has this administrator had which has so negatively colored his attitude about inclusionary practices? I don’t know.
I’m just grateful that my “personal experience” taught me that inclusion is the standard we aim for with all students. And I hope that for the students today who are sharing classrooms with children with disabilities, that when they become school administrators, they will say, “Welcome to our school. From ‘my personal experience,’ I know this is going to be great for everyone!”