Friday, July 6, 2012

To Include or Not to Include???

To include or not to include? Include in what? Include where?
Basically the term inclusion is used to describe an educational model (applied in various settings) where students with special needs spend most or all of their time with more typical students. The concept becomes difficult in determining how to implement this practice.
I approach inclusion with more subjective than objective thoughts because I have a granddaughter who has Down Syndrome. She attends school in the same building she would attend if she did not have a Downs diagnosis. However, she goes to a single classroom. Her classroom is not bright and cheery. It is a bit dark and, from my observation, more baby-sitting than educating. There are no more than eight others in her "class." There is a "teacher" and an aide. But, from what I can see, the "teacher" doesn't do much teaching.
Vania doesn't get to change classes like other middle school students. She doesn't get the mental challenge of inter-active learning even on a modified basis.
Vania comes to school every day dressed very typically if how the other students are "decked out" is the indicator of typical. In fact, she makes a teenage fashion statement. Truth be told she loves knowing she looks cool!
I don't know what her typical day looks like but from just stepping into the classroom there didn't appear to be anything much going on. There was no music or books. There were no cheery bulletin boards. There were no learning or activity stations. It almost seemed to me like school for Vania is a time warp she walks into each day. The other students - some who appear to have more profound needs than Vania - don't seem to be doing much of anything either. The classroom is off down a fairly long dark hall. It's about as far from inclusion as a classroom setting could be!
I do understand that there are challenges to inclusion in an educational model. Just like for more typical students (whatever typical means) there is a wide range of ability among students, the same is true with students categorized as special needs.
Have you ever seen a truly typical middle school student? Personally I'm not at all sure what typical looks like in a middle school setting! The other day I was just hanging out with some middle school students who would probably pass for typical. There was not one single cookie-cutter kid in the bunch. Some even looked a little strange with all kinds of piercings (tongue, ear, lip, cheek and other unnamed places) and tats anywhere and everywhere. The style of dress can only be described as eclectic.
At home Vania has lots of stimulation in activity, media and family time. One of her very favorite things to do is take care of her new little baby brother. She loves him and he loves her! She gives him very good care. She is very responsible with her baby brother.
There is no one size fits all in any educational model! Inclusion is not achieved with a cookie-cutter mentality. In my opinion, inclusion that is effective requires educators and parents coming together to think outside the box and step outside their comfort zones to maximize the educational experience for every child!
The challenge goes to educators in both school and the church. The challenge goes to parents of both typical and less traditional students! The challenge goes to friends and advocates! The challenge is to dialogue and ponder and evaluate how to include every child in every possible way at school, at church, and in life in general!
I sit in on some special need network parent meetings. Sometimes there is so much pain in the room that I can hardly bear it! The stories Moms tell ................ Moms of mainstreamed kids at a local high school tell about their kids in regular classes for most or all of the day but then ostracized at lunch to sit at a table alone or with their "peers"! It's heart-breaking!
My Vania is very social! She loves people! Whenever I hear these stories, what I hear in my heart is the pain because I know my Vania needs to be included in every possible way! She is being raised by loving parents (and extended family) along with her three brothers and included totally.
We HAVE to find a way to be more inclusive! It matters all the way around! We ALL need each other with all our diversities! That's what gives depth and texture and color to the mosaic of life!

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