High school started a week ago today. Over the course of the past week, I have been able to see the tangible benefits of inclusion in action during Rachel’s first week of high school. Don’t know what images you have when you think of your child with Down syndrome or another disability in high school but reality has been different from my vision – in a good way.
At the Freshman ice cream social hosted a couple of days before school’s start, Rachel saw many of her freshman friends. Most had that “deer in the headlights look.” Rachel found some older girls she had met at acting class. She met the student council president and they connected. She met other student council members This little group chatted with her for a long time and offered to help her. She was in heaven and declared that she thought student council was for her! I would agree with that.
The first day of school is a half day with Freshman only. They have what they call Falcon Mentors. Rachel’s Falcon Mentor is our precious friend Andrea Strickler.
Andrea is a junior and an amazingly gifted singer and actress. We know her through CYT. Andrea has a sister with Down syndrome who graduated high school last year. We requested Andrea as Rachel’s peer mentor and she requested Rachel. I cannot say enough about this wonderful young lady. She met Rachel at the door and guided her through the day. Rachel needed a good, confident start and Andrea helped make that happen.
So this is how I was greeted at pick up. Me: “How was your day?” Rachel who was carrying two t-shirts responded, “Amazing. It was an amazing day mommy. I won the dance-off!” One shirt for all the freshman and another for winning the dance-off. What can I say? The girl loves to dance.
Later that day, Andrea sent me a video of the dance-off, but I couldn’t get it to load to my blog. She also posted this to Facebook:
The Student Council president, Ashley, sent me a lengthy text. She wanted to be sure I knew what a great day Rachel had and Rachel had WON the dance-off. She sent me seven pictures. Here are a couple.
Thursday was a really big day too. It was the first day with all 2,117 students. The school floor plan is a bit confusing, too. Ms. Andrea met Rachel to escort her in. I know that once Rachel learns her way around she will be fine. There were still many i’s to dot so I prayed Joshua 1:9 a lot. I was very concerned about lunch. I had found no one with the same lunch as Rachel. If we are going to have an issue, it is during these unstructured times. So here she goes to lunch with several hundred people in a new setting with new lines. Also, I didn’t want her sitting alone or with staff. Again, she’ll be fine once she gets the system but I really didn’t have information on how it was going to work. Then, I get a text from one Alli Handy. Alli goes to church with us. She’s a senior. She and Rachel have become friends at church and I’ve been teasing her that she is responsible for Rachel this year. This is the picture and this is the message:
“Look who I found at lunch today?”
Seems Alli has the same lunch and they eat together every day. Literally, this mom’s prayers answered.
A few days later Rachel told me, “Alli Handy has lunch with me everyday and she’s senior.” Envision her big eyes and ginormous smile as she shares this. I shared with Alli and she said they were having a great time and now her group of friends knew Rachel and they were watching out for her too! I few weeks back I blogged about the importance of adult mentors. I would say the value of positive peer mentors cannot be overstated.
Rachel now has new followers on twitter – students she has met at her school. I ran into a friend of mine who has a senior son. He didn’t know Rachel but he told his mom about Rachel winning the dance-off and what a great job she did. Another message for this mom.
I would say this is inclusion in action Because Rachel has always participated in typical activities, she knows people outside the labels of CBR, resource, DS, and the rest of “disability alphabet soup.” She’s hanging out with other students who fortunately have stepped it up and taken care of her in these first days. I do not believe this would have happened had Rachel not been included at school and community activities for all her life. Look at the trail of people? CYT, school, church, theatre and there are some dance friends in there too! That’s inclusion in action. Now, if we can only get adults to learn to put aside labels and low expectations?
This is Rachel’s Great Adventure!
Disclaimer: Since I try to be honest with my readers, I must tell you that there have been many behind the scenes happenings that could derail Rachel’s train. We have shielded her from all of that. I think it is important to model respect for Rachel. We will let Rachel be Rachel, and we will deal with the adult issues and the train wrecks.