I must first proclaim that we are down to one semester. Rachel successfully finished semester one of her senior year. She had a great semester. Powder puff touchdowns, homecoming dances, volleyball serves, and of course classes. She worked hard and grew in her classes. She read Beowulf, Hamlet, The Pardoner’s Tale, and a few other selections, discussed women’s changing roles through the decades plus mainstream and counterculture of the fifties. As part of her theatre class this semester, she played multiple small roles in their radio show version of It’s ‘s a Wonderful Life. I’m guessing that was the highlight for Rachel!
She loved American Government and often related what she was learning to her experiences with Congressman Yoder and Senators Moran and Roberts. She has one period a day where she works as an office volunteer. She loves it and they love her. Several office staffers, counselors and vice-principals have told me they love having her there, and we need to figure out a way to get her a job in the office!
Rachel had a great semester and overall, so did her parents, but you know that I manage the train wrecks. I’m not sure we had a complete train wreck but we did have a derailment with one class where we just couldn’t get on the same page with the teacher. I’m not going to camp on what happened in the class except to say that Rachel will be in a different class next semester, and she made an A in the class. A few days ago I was talking to one of my sweet friends about the frustration of the class. Most of the frustration was related to the lack of communication that is specifically outlined in Rachel’s IEP. Among the other frustrations was the teacher’s insistence on including an over-abundance of true-false questions on tests. Rachel’s IEP doesn’t specifically say you can’t use true-false questions but it does encourage teachers to test her differently. We explained the history all the way back to elementary when the social studies teacher figured out that true-false questions were not an effective way to measure Rachel’s understanding of information. Usually, her teachers have understood and gladly worked through this with us. Not so this time.
My friend’s son is also a senior. He and Rachel had a class together this semester, and they have become buddies. The teacher even assigned them to a work group together because he said that he knew this young man would be a good fit with Rachel. My friend was telling her son about our struggle in the other class. He didn’t understand why the teacher was not working with us, but he was more concerned that the final for the class he had with Rachel was almost all true-false! His mom told him that teacher probably made the necessary test adjustments. She was right and Rachel aced the final in that class.
A few weeks ago when we were working concessions at It’s a Wonderful Life, one of Rachel’s former high school teachers was talking to us. He was telling us about Rachel bringing office passes to his classroom. He wanted to know what Rachel was going to do next year. He said in a questioning kind of way, “She’s not staying for the 18-21 year old program?” We explained that she was not. What was offered didn’t seem to be a good fit for her. Her friends are graduating and she knows it’s time for her to graduate and move on to the next thing. We told him about post-secondary programs available and that Rachel really wanted to attend the new EMPOWER Program at the University of Arkansas. Though we have not decided for sure, she is thinking about going to Johnson County Community College next year and to Arkansas the next. His response was that was great to hear. She’s a great kid and will do great at whatever she does. Then he said (paraphrase) “Rachel has always wanted to be just like everyone else. She embraces being included and has fully enjoyed her high school years. She should go to college like her friends.”
Those two stories probably seem like small, ordinary conversations. But they are so much more than that. They are evidence that inclusion works. Jonathan and I were discussing Rachel’s friend and his concern about the true-false issue, and he said it was another example of the impact of the incremental steps we take throughout this journey. I said it was an example of one of the soft benefits of inclusion, but it hit me that like George in kindergarten and others along the way, it is evidence that inclusion is working and the results will impact those beyond Rachel for years to come. Just by being Rachel, by being included alongside her typical peers in pretty much all aspects of her high school career, we see how a peer and a teacher see the world through a somewhat different lens because of their experiences with Rachel.
And for those inquiring minds who want to know what will Rachel do next year, we are getting a little closer. For Rachel and for us, one more semester to go. It’s going to be great.