Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Wonders of Inclusion

Many years ago I had the pleasure of being an integrated preschool teacher for the Beverly Public Schools. In that role I had the opportunity to work with many wonderful families that believed that their children not only belonged in the public schools but could thrive and be successful. The following editorial is from the Salem Evening News and it is about a little boy that I met at 3 years old that has matured into an amazing young man. The editorial speaks to the wonders of inclusion and the amazing thing that children with disabilities can accomplish given the opportunity.

On a recent morning my 12-year-old son Walker got up, ate his Corn Flakes, asked me to tie his sneakers, grabbed his green backpack and headphones, got on the school bus and flashed me a thumbs up.

"See you show today, Mom," he called out. "You proud me."

That morning's happenings might seem unremarkable to the vast majority of mothers of 12-year-olds, but for this mother of a son with Down syndrome it was a morning I once could not imagine my son ever knowing.

The North Beverly Elementary School caps off each year with the fifth-graders' annual musical extravaganza. This year, culminating hours and hours spent practicing lines, organizing props, gathering costumes, and memorizing lyrics, 69 exuberant, spring-fever-filled students performed "Fiddler of the Roof." And my thrilled and proud-as-he-could-be son played the role of the Fiddler. I rather doubt that there has ever been a more delighted Fiddler in history.

That morning at 8:30 sharp, my son picked up his fiddle and made his way across the North Beverly School's stage with all the solemnity of a professional actor — which is what Walker thinks he is. No matter what movie or show we see, Walker comes home knowing the best lines, anointing himself the lead character, maneuvering the rest of friends and family into the most minor roles and then performing his rendition of the show day after day after day.

"I the prince" he announces after seeing Hans Christian Andersen's "The Mermaid." "I the Nutcracker," he'll declare after his annual trip to see the Boston Ballet's performance of the holiday classic.

For most of his 12 years Walker has been soaking up musicals like a sponge. During his years at North Beverly Elementary School he has reveled in the end-of-the-year, fifth-grade show's excitement.

Each year he'd tell me it was his turn to have the lead role. It didn't happen until this spring when it really was Walker's turn.

He was ready for it. He talked of little else for weeks, his eyes sparkling with glee every time he would tell someone, "I the Fiddler now, my show."

It was Walker's turn and he made the most of it. He entered and exited, stood and sat, fake-fiddled and swayed, sang and bowed, like he was born to do it. Which he just might have been.

This July it will be 13 years since Walker entered this world and surprised me with his sweet face announcing his ownership of an extra, 21st chromosome.

Before the umbilical cord was even cut I feared he might grow up lonely and isolated. Happily, it wasn't but a matter of months before his extraordinary personality made it clear that he had no intention of going quietly into a world of loneliness or sitting on the sidelines.

Watching my wildly grinning Fiddler take his first-ever bow at center stage, I wished all the dedicated, skilled, kind, funny, patient and loving teachers and therapists who have nurtured him over the past 12 years could be in the audience to see that face and hear that applause

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