Saturday, 23 March 2013

What a Week!

 This has been one incredible week for inclusion at our school.  One of our guys in grade 6 is transitioning to junior high in the next month and for many reasons his parents decided that Spring Break would be a natural end here and beginning there.  However, I can't begin to tell you how sad our staff and students were to see him go.  His friends in grade 6 were genuinely grieved that he would not be in their class after spring break.  In order to give him a great send off, they prepared letters for him to tell them what an impact he had made on their lives and what they would miss about him.  The letters were heartfelt expressions of love and friendship for this student.  Students wrote:
                         *You always know how to cheer me up.
                       *You shared your sled with me at recess.
                            *You were so fun to play with at recess.
                     *You are a genius when it comes to animals.
                 *You know so much about dinosaurs that I would ask you instead of the computer.
                              *You were my friend and I appreciated that.
                    *You were kind to everyone.
                            *You were always happy.
These are only a few that I can remember off the top of my head, but reading the letters warmed my heart because they meant it.  They included this guy like just one of the class.  They appreciated his strengths and looked past his difficulties.  On his last day, they enclosed him in a semi-circle and he took turns throwing a rubber fish to each classmate who then told him verbally what he meant to him/her.  It was beautiful to watch and our guy loved being in charge of the fish and obviously enjoyed the heartfelt comments.  He was truly included. Has it been a long road to get here?  Yah, but just watching that circle enclosing him in their midst gave me goosebumps.  There has been real change here.  Students are including their peers regardless of challenges.  But, we all know the kids have an easier time. . .  it is the adults we have to educate but that is happening too.  The staff will really miss this guy; his funny jokes, his laughter, his body bobbing up the hall and his love of animals.  Good luck in your junior high, kiddo.  You will be amazing!

     On  another note, my little grade one guy  took part in the class leading our regular Leader in Me assembly last Thursday.  Some of his classmates spoke to the class, some read a poem, they showed a stop animation video of the first four habits (clink on link)
and finally they sang a song.  Our guy is learning to speak and sign so I watched as he sat with his class at the front of the assembly until the end when they were going to sing.  He sat quietly with an EA beside him watching everything going on.  Not so much included except he was sitting there with his class.  But, when the song started, the music teacher had joined them and was accompanying them on the guitar.  Well, our guy was accompanying the group as well, on the finger cymbals.  It took him one verse to warm up and then he joined right in. First, he played along with the rhythm of the piece and then he switched to the steady beat.  He was thrilled to be playing and contributing and it showed on his face and his body as he moved to the music.  His music teacher made his inclusion authentic and meaningful.  He participated how he could and loved it.  The smile on his face after told all.  He was very pleased with himself.  I am not sure there was a dry eye in the house for the staff.  Wasn't it just months ago this little guy was so frustrated with us and our lack of understanding that he was raging every day?  Now here is was included with his class, his abilities embraced by his music teacher who now knows that he gets to pick an instrument every class so he can take part.

What a way to end the term!  Each time I think about those last two days of school, I get goosebumps and I feel so happy for these kids.  Both the kids we "include" (as if we are doing something so special for them when it is their right to be in school) and those who surround these guys.  I read an article about inclusion the other day by Jen Jones on the Undersold Benefits of Inclusion .  This doesn't just benefit the kids being included, but the kids surrounding them experience great benefits also.  They are learning that everyone is different and that is okay.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Empathy Needed. . .

Last night our school was so fortunate to have a Dara Choy, volunteer from the Edmonton Chapter of the Tourette Society, share information about Tourette Syndrome with our entire staff.  She began the presentation with this video (this is only a part of the video: we are ordering the full video to have on hand):
For some reason I can't embed this, but take a look by clicking on the link.

What a powerful video in the voice of the children.  There were many teary eyes in the room especially when the child talked about how his teacher just didn't understand anything about him and how hard that is for him.  This gave our  staff something to think about.

As part of the presentation, she had us do an activity to emulate a situation with Tourette Syndrome.  We had to hum, shrug our shoulder every time she clapped, touch the back of the chair every time she clapped twice, and cross out every third word and re-write it.  Then we were directed to write out the lyrics to O Canada.  Holy cow!  It was so hard that I could not get past the first line of the song.  Imagine how hard it is for our little people who actually must learn through all of that stuff going through their minds.  This really hit home for many people who now understand how hard our two guys must have to work to complete assignments, stay on task and so on.  We consider ourselves to be competent in many areas and we could not do the task. What a great example to live through.

Larry Ferlazzo has a blog post called The Best Sites for Walking in Someone Else's Shoes  This site is filled with videos and activities that can help build empathy for other students either for staff or for students. 

Many staff have come to the realization that our little guys are doing the best that they can and it is up to the adults to make the changes that will aleviate the anxiety felt by these students.  It is up to us to be the change to help make the situation better and to realize all the work these students are doing.  We have to be understanding of the parent who is probably exhausted at home and worried and who doesn't really need to hear "one more bad thing that happened!"   We need the paradigm shift to understanding.  I expect great things after hearing such a wonderful presentation.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Lacrosse Fun

Last week, my son, Simon who plays with the Edmonton Rush Lacrosse team, came out on behalf of the team to demonstrate a bit about Canada's summer national sport.  Because this sport is fairly new to most students in the school, it was a great equalizer.  Everyone was learning something new.  It was fun to watch everyone struggling at first (not fun, in the sense of laughing at inability, but fun that everyone was at the same starting point).  Everyone was learning how to trap and scoop the ball first of all.  It wasn't all that easy but I loved seeing students show off a new skill.  And my little grade one guy??? He was awesome at it.  Another reason for his classmates to see his abilities and look past his disabilities.  He could trap and scoop with ease.  He could throw the ball and had a blast shooting at Simon in the net. That is Noah in the picture.  Note his perfect form to shoot and blurred stick as he takes a "hot" shot on the goalie.  Our amazing guy waited patiently in line to take a shot, took the shot with pretty good accuracy and then lined up again to take another shot.  Of course, he surprised us all BUT should we be surprised?  Not really.  Everyday he shows us more and more of his abilities.  During a home visit Tuesday, he said to me, with signs and sounds, "Noah wants ball."  So we played catch.  He said my name: Ba Da and brought tears to my eyes.  He continues to take us on a journey of learning; both his learning and our learning.