I wrote this recently in response to a writing challenge from "The Mighty", a website to which I've become a contributor. They don't use every story submitted to them, so since they didn't use this one I thought I would share it here.
After six years in a self-contained therapy centered special education school located several towns away we decided to bring our daughter back into our town schools for her education. We wanted her to know that she is part of the community where she lives. It was a scary thing to do as the class she would join had recently relocated from an elementary school to the middle school, and she would be one year younger than the sixth graders. We didn’t know how welcoming the general education staff nor school administration would be but hoped for the best, and prepared to fight for inclusion if necessary. The principal was welcoming of the class, and seemed generally supportive. If there is one person I could credit with the success of the transition for both Hillary and our family it would be the chorus teacher. He embraced her and her classmates and helped the other students understand how to interact with kids who were differently abled. Even though Hillary and her classmates were all nonverbal and had a myriad of serious challenges he fostered an atmosphere of acceptance and focused on what people can do, not what they cannot do. He stood up to the few concerned parents at back to school night who were afraid that somehow this group of differently abled students would lessen the class for their typically developing kids. With the help of her teacher and through the use of dance routines, adapted rhythm instruments, assistance from classroom staff and student volunteers my daughter and her classmates were able to fully participate in concerts, Christmas caroling, and other music related activities over the years. We were even able to see something we never dreamed possible in both of our girls on the stage in a concert together. He included them in keyboard labs, and made sure he told us how excited Hillary was to be making her own music on the keyboard. He attended Hillary’s IEP meetings with positive input. This wonderful teacher brought his other classes to my daughter’s classroom to visit and participate in special activities and for birthdays to sing happy birthday to the honoree. Because of his attitude and efforts, Hillary was able to make friends and be known in her town as part of the community, not just the girl in the wheelchair. When she graduated from the middle school it was Mr. D who asked us personally to please allow her to participate with her peers in the graduation ceremony, as not all the parents of her self-contained class in years past had allowed their child to do so. He assured us that we would be able to sit in the front row right in front of her so that if she had a seizure or needed us we would be right there. We agreed and are glad we did. Four years later when she graduated high school we invited that teacher to be Hillary’s honored guest and he gladly accepted. I have no doubt that without such a special person acting as a bridge between Hillary’s world and other students the transition to our town school would have been much more difficult for all of us.
The results of our decision are still being felt in that when we are out and about in town or a surrounding community we generally run into someone who knows Hillary from school and approaches to say hello. I'd say this is really a success story for inclusion.