Last 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.
In 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.