Recently, Colin's Karate school held an event that they do every so often called "Buddy Week". It's an opportunity for members to bring a friend/family member and participate in class together. When I asked Colin who and if he wanted to bring anyone, he quickly responded with Kelsey, his friend from Kindergarten last year. This was an opportunity for Colin to share something he enjoys and works hard at with a friend of his.
.At one of our most recent IEP meetings, I mentioned one of Chris' and my life plans for Colin which was to grow up to be an active, valued and contributing member of society. This is something I think we all strive for our children and the only way we can hope to achieve this is by raising our children at a very early age to be kind, respectful, loving, hard working, resilient, and inclusive. I said that the only way he can possibly achieve this is by learning alongside, in the same environment as those same peers he will one day be working with. When I brought this up, I was told that "we aren't talking about what happens after high school, we're talking about now". This is a contradiction to the very thing that all schools work hard to do, prepare our kids for the future.
The formation of self contained classrooms many years ago was well intentioned at the time because it was working to provide children with disabilities an education that met their needs for the first time. However, for decades now, research has shown time and time again with valuable data that students with needs like Colin's can make valuable gains by learning in inclusive environments. On the contrary, this also teaches the general population of students respect and acceptance for those who learn differently than them.
Colin has benefited in so many ways from learning in classrooms with his typical peers both academically and socially. He continues to make meaningful progress, especially this year with educators who truly believe he is capable of making achievements, even if it's at his own pace. The thing is, I'm pretty sure that his peers are also learning from him working with them in the same classroom. They are learning that kids have differences including the ways they talk, learn and act sometimes.
We are thankful for friends like Kelsey who promote acceptance, inclusion and respect just by being who they are. We wish all adults could learn the things that a lot of kids already know.