Schools

Bullying Epidemic

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I spoke this morning at Carroll Middle School in the Southlake-Carroll School District here in the Dallas / Fort Worth area. One of my main topics this morning was a message to bullies, to those being bullied, and to those who could do something about it. The video link at the end of this post is from a bullying report on HLN. The child being bullied appealed to school officials, and NOTHING was done. Inaction by authority figures closest to the student resulted in a more volitale situation. It makes me sick that so-called teachers and administrators would tell this child it was all in his head.

You know why I believe the child in the video? Because the same thing happened to me in 8th grade.

There was a fellow student in my class who made my life miserable. I hated going to school, and hated even seeing his face. One day, I came to the teacher of the class that the bully and I were in. I told her all of my hurt feelings that the bully had caused. I had never told anyone about my pain before. Her response, “it’s all in your head.” That night, I can remember lying in bed believing that if my appeal to an adult who was closest to the situation didn’t help, that I’d be better off not waking up in the morning. I had never felt more alone and worthless than that day.

There is a good epilogue to this story. The bully was invited to a church retreat when I was a Junior in high school. He approached me one morning to apologize, as he said in his own words, “Jesus is Lord of my life, now, and he would never have done the awful things to you that I did.” While the epilogue is good, the events that transpired in that 8th grade class could have been avoided. That teacher completely failed me and failed in her profession that day by dismissing my pain. She could have easily gotten an administrator involved, but she didn’t. (To be honest, she was a lousy educator, too, but that is a different story.)

I’m glad that the Dragons (students) of Carroll Middle School have the support that I didn’t have. I believe that the administration and teachers’ committment to a positive school enviornment would never allow what I went through to occur. Everyone near a child must understand…feelings are facts. If a child says he or she is the target of a bully, you MUST do something. Kids aren’t killing themselves simply from being bullied. They are killing themselves because they feel like no one cares, and nothing will ever be done to make the pain stop.

Check out this video from HLN of a father (and family) who tried to help, and what occurs when a school administration doesn’t do a thing about bullying. I applaud the efforts of the entire Southlake-Carroll School District, as I believe this would never occur the same way it did in this video below:

Video: Boy arrested for threatening bullies?

Dawson and Carroll Middle Schools – Smilin’ Yet?

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I love 7th graders! I mean it! They are some of the best audiences I’ve ever had, and I love their zest for life. Yesterday, I spoke to the “Dragons” at Dawson Middle School and today, it was also the “Dragons” from Carroll Middle School. Not only are these the most well behaved students I’ve ever spoken to, but they are also full of smiles and laughter. Motivating them? That was certainly an easy task! These kids are great!

I challenged each school to participate in “Smile Day” on Monday. Each student in the two schools has been given the task of smiling all day long this coming Monday in an effort to act their way into feeling happy. I give them this challenge to experiment with on a Monday because that’s the hardest day to smile, and if you can be happy on a Monday, you can be happy all week long. Happiness is a choice that each and every one of us has to make every day, and these students will CHANGE the attitudes in their schools if they succeed in smiling all day on Monday.

Where Am I Going, Again?

    Posted in Churches, Events, Pro-Life Speaking, Schools    |    1 Comments

Last week, we got to spend some time in Johnson City, KS. I know…I had to look it up, too! Johnson City is in the far southwestern corner of the state and is only a few miles from the Colorado and Texas borders. It was quite literally the “middle of nowhere.” While a remote destination, the people of Johnson City, KS, couldn’t have been a nicer bunch!

Our trip began at a Wednesday night service at Fields Memorial Wesleyan Church to a group of teenagers and adults. We had a wonderful evening of pizza, worship, and a message to get those in attendance to ponder what it means to be a positive Christian. I believe that’s the only way Christians can serve and carry out God’s will in the world…we must be a happy people!

On Thursday, I began the morning at Stanton County High School, speaking to the students there about truly living life for all it’s worth, and about not letting any obstacle get in your way. We had a blast during the question and answer time that I always try to incorporate in my school presentations. The students asked questions for a good thirty-five minutes and we had a great discussion on how to approach others with disabilities…along with some fun stuff like answering how I play Rockband 2!

Thursday night, I spoke at the Life Support Crisis Pregnancy Center’s Annual Banquet. This event was the main reason for being in Johnson City, KS, and the banquet was wonderful. So many people showed up that the hosts had to put out more tables! We met so many people with their own stories of hope and inspiration, and I loved being able to encourage and support Life Support in their efforts. We had a fabulous time with Lisa (the Exec. Director of Life Support) and her wonderful family! We felt right at home in Johnson City!

My Name in Lights

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This past Thursday, we traveled to Luverne, MN, to speak to the community of Luverne at a fundraiser for the Palace Theatre.  Now, I’ve never been this far north…especially in January.  I was not ready for the brutal reality of what it means for the temperature to be “below zero.”  Wow, if that won’t wake you up, nothing will.  The Palace Theatre in Luverne is an historic location, built in 1915.  While the building has been renovated, it still has that classic theatre feel, and I loved getting to speak there. I particularly enjoyed seeing my name up on the old-style marquee out front complete with flashing lights.  While I had never spoken for a “community event” before, I can tell you that the crowd that gathered last Thursday night was ready to laugh.  It was an incredible evening and it was perfect…well, nearly perfect.

I close out most of my presentations with a song, and on Thursday, I had chosen to close with Garth Brooks, “The River.”  The song was going well until about halfway through when the track I was singing with completely cut out.  For a flash of a second, I was stunned.  Thinking very quickly though, I decided that if I were to quit and walk away, I would not be following my own message of being able to accomplish anything no matter the obstacle.  So…I grinned…said, “there went my track,” and continued singing the song a cappella.  As if on cue, many in the audience began singing with me and providing my rhythm section by clapping along.  I finished the song, and thus completed my message that you CAN do anything.  Many people in the audience asked if was done on purpose…which means I must have hidden my surprise quite well.

We finished out the trip with a stop at Adrian High School were the 5th-12th graders came in for a short talk and a Q&A session.  I love being able to go into schools and encourage, but more importantly, I feel it extremely important to open a line of communication so that students can learn what life is like without arms.  So often, they find out that I’m like they are…just without arms.  I loved getting the chance to be with them, and was a little nervous when I was asked to stay through lunch…until I found out that pizza had been delivered.

While I was ready to get back to relative warmth of Texas (I’ll never appreciate 32 degrees the same way again since coming from a 30 below zero wind chill!), I’ll never forget the kindness and warmth of the community of Luverne and the energy and spirit of the students in Adrian.  Now…if we can just get Texas to warm up outside, we’ll be set!

Tour de Nebraska – Part Two

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After a wonderful weekend in Omaha, we drove over to Kearney, NE, on Monday for our next stop, the University of Nebraska at Kearney.  While I did have a few flashbacks to dorm life in the guest dorm room we stayed in, I loved being a few minutes away from all of the events on campus.  We ate dinner with the students from Collegians for Integration and Accessibility, and had a wonderful time getting to know them.  Several of the girls became Hannah’s (my two year old) best friend while we there.  We felt like family even though we’d only been there for a few hours.

Disabilities Panel at University of Nebraska - KearneyOn Tuesday, it was time to get to work.  I was invited to be on a panel for students with disabilities, even though it has several years since I was a student.  I really enjoyed being on the panel and hearing perspectives from other panel members on what life was like living with their particular disability.  I was not even aware of some of the disabilities shared on that panel, and found the afternoon very educational for all involved.  I especially appreciated the positive attitude found in the entire room.  So often, when disabilities are discussed in any setting, it can be a very negative and/or condescending experience.  This was not the case at UNK, and I am glad to have been a part of such an educational experience.

Tuesday evening, I got the chance to tell my story and answer some questions from the students.  We had a blast together, and I truly hope that my story made a difference and gave the students in attendance some things to think about.  For many that were there, I hope that my message of a joy-filled life was either a boost or a reminder to do what they were already doing so well.

I appreciate the acceptance and friendships that were formed in the short time we were on campus, and I hope to be back to speak again and meet a whole new set of students in a few years!

Disability Awareness at Harper College

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Just over a week ago, I was asked to speak to students and faculty at Harper College just outside of Chicago, IL, on disability awareness. I told my story of growing up in a body with no arms, and gave the attendees a few tips on interacting with people in wheelchairs along with a few ideas on how to live a happy life. The space they had me in is called a “black box” theater which provided a very intimate setting. After I spoke, we had a great Q&A time in which the students and faculty asked me questions that ranged from from how I met my wife to how I became a disability awareness speaker.

The group was fantastic, and even though it was a very short trip, I really enjoyed getting to be at Harper College for a few hours. I love the opportunity to teach others about my experiences in what the world sees as a “handicapped body.”. Many times, appearences can be very deceiving. All in all, judging from their reactions, the attendees at Harper College were entertained and enlightened.

In-service Program – Inclusion: Out of the Box – In Shirley, AR

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Chet McDoniel gives an in-service program in Shirley, ARLast week, I was invited to give an inservice program in Shirley, AR to the Shirley ISD teachers and administrators about how they could have a truly happy, successful year. My dad was with me for this one, and we spoke on what school was like for me growing up and how much it meant for me to be included in the classroom…instead of being secluded due to my handicap.

In 1985, when I began Kindergarten in Bossier City, LA, the way of handling a child with a handicap was to send them to a “504 Location.” That meant that all the children with special needs (whether they be mental or physical) were sent via bus to a special location instead of being allowed to go to the school that served their respective neighborhoods. For me, this would have meant riding a bus across town instead of getting to go to school with my friends at the elementary school less than a quarter mile away.

Through many contacts and helpful, forward-thinking people, my parents were able to get me “mainstreamed” at the local elementary school. In fact, I was one of the first kids with special needs to be “mainstreamed” in Louisiana. Obviously, this decision had a huge impact on my self-confidence as I was able to play and learn right alongside those without disabilities.

Chet McDoniel signs a book with his feet at an in-service program in Shirley, ARIn Shirley, AR, we presented the story of my life, and showed why inclusion of those with special needs is so important. We played a game where the teachers were challenged to include a group member who was experiencing a mental challenge and couldn’t participate like the rest of the group. For this in-service program, I wanted to help teach how these educators can open their eyes to making sure every child and parent feels accepted. We had a fantastic morning, and are still hearing from teachers in Shirley, AR, about how wonderful the in-service program was, and how much they are now looking forward to this new school year.

The Hills of Tennessee

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We just returned from a fantastic tour of several spots in Tennessee and Arkansas. The trip started on Wednesday, the 15th, at the Concord Road Church of Christ in Brentwood, TN where a cousin and her family attend. My dad and I presented “All He Needs For Heaven” and we enjoyed having worship led by my cousin’s son. I love being with family.

On Thursday, I spoke to the David Lipscomb Campus School with my “I’m Not Broken” presentation. I had a blast with the students there as they were extremely attentive and had lots of great (and sometimes hilarious) questions for me. There were over 700 students in attendance, and I’ve never seen such a respectful audience. Usually, I kind find a few people talking or playing with cell phones, etc…not in this group of kids! They were awesome! They allowed Jesus to shine through their wonderful attitudes.

On Friday, I got to speak at Friendship Christian School (FCS) in Lebanon, TN. At FCS that day, they held “Commanders in Action” day. (Their mascot is the commander.) For many years, now, the school has held a day when students with disabilities from all over the county can come and enjoy a festival. Each FCS student is paired with a student who has a disability, and they spend the day getting to know each other and playing games. I told the students how proud of them I was, and I believe they were truly accomplishing Jesus’s mission of showing love to everyone. They were a fantastic group, and I believe the beauty of Jesus could be seen in them and in their actions.

On Sunday, my dad and I again delivered our message to both the Otter Creek Church of Christ and the Hermitage Church of Christ. Both churches have plenty of family members to catch up with, and the praise and worship at both churches made it a fantastic day.

After a couple days of rest, we continued on to Bentonville, Arkansas. On Wednesday the 22nd, I spoke at the corporate offices of Wal-Mart. My assigned topic was disability awareness, and I got to tell them about my experiences in life and in the job force. I believe there many things that corporate America can learn to help make people who have disabilities feel wonderful. The executives at Wal-Mart told me that they learned a lot, and it also helped that I had them laughing through most of the presentation.

That night I got to speak at the Decatur Assembly of God Church in Decatur, Arkansas. They could not have been more receptive to the message, and they were one of the most welcoming crowds I’ve ever had the privilege of speaking before. This was my first sermon to deliver by myself, as my dad had already flown home. I had a blast!

While it was exhausting, and Hannah, Joni and I all wound up with colds, the trip was absolutely thrilling. God has opened so many doors, and we continue to be blown away at His generosity. I’ll leave you with a video shot at David Lipscomb campus school that tells a funny story of a time in junior high when a bully decided to pick a fight with me.

Dragons Everywhere!

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Last Thursday and Friday, I was given the opportunity to speak to 7th graders from Dawson Middle School and Carroll Middle Schoool (both schools have a dragon for their mascot) in Southlake, TX.  The students were very respectful and asked lots of great questions, but more importantly, they were very receptive to the message of living happier lives by choosing happy, positive attitudes.  

They have been challenged (as I do at every school) to smile for an entire day on the Monday they return from Spring Break.  I call it “The Smile Experiment” and students who smile are changing their schools all over this country.   Here is a great picture of some special students at one of the schools:

Smiling Students with Inspirational Speaker, Chet McDoniel

I encourage you to watch this clip to see how you can “use what you have instead of complaining about what you don’t have” which is one of the lessons I gave to the students:

Inspiring Those Who Inspire

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Yesterday, my dad and I were invited to speak to a group of over 600 school teachers and administrators who were gathered at a Special Education conference in Decatur, TX. Now, the conference mainly focused on new laws and policies for special education, but our job was to put a face on special education and to inspire teachers going into the new school year.

We told many stories of my educational background including how my parents were able to get me “mainstreamed” (I understand the term now is “inclusion.”), and how special adaptations in the classroom helped me to become the educated person I am today. Most of all, though, the positive attitude of the teachers and school administrators throughout my life really allowed me to flourish. My dad mentioned that he heard of people wanting to “take on the school system”…we never had to…the school systems I was involved in always bent over backwards to help me accomplish my goals.

These teachers were a great crowd, and many visited with me afterwards about how much our presentation helped them going into this new school year. We hope to have many more occasions to speak to both students and teachers in the future. Inspiring teachers allows us to inspire the thousands of students they inspire every day!

Jim and Chet McDoniel are inspirational speakers and are available to present to your school’s faculty and/or students. Chet’s unique view of life without arms allows him to inspire students in ways no one else can. Click here to request more information.