Yesterday I spent about 30 minutes with one of Rachel’s high school teachers. She had met with Rachel’s former teacher of the same subject matter and wanted to know if we could meet. I love teachers who reach out like this. She told me that she had never taught a student with Down syndrome. No worries. I told her that happens to us a lot. Stunning when you think about the fact that IDEA was passed in 1975. That discussion is for another day. She also told me she was nervous. “I want to be the best teacher I can be for Rachel. I want her to learn.” I have heard this before and again, I love it when teachers will sit down with me like this. I assured her we would learn together and we discussed some strategies. I also told her a couple of stories that support some of our commitment to inclusive education. She said these stories really helped her. I think I’ve shared them before, but as school is rolling out it won’t hurt to share again.
When Rachel was in 7th grade they read a book in class called, “My Louisiana Sky.” As I was dropping girls home after school, they were talking about the characters and who they liked and why. Rachel was part of the discussion. It was a good conversation. If she isn’t in the classes with her friends reading the same books they are, she is cut from the socialization part of the pie too. The teacher for this class told me they had language circles and she was observing Rachel’s group. There was some question about this book that they were discussing and the group had the wrong answer. Rachel knew the right answer and finally got them to listen to her. The teacher said, “Yes. Go Rachel!”
Last year in social studies they did a wagon train project. They had wagon train groups. One of the boys in Rachel’s group was one of the high-achieving, gifted kids. He has always been kind to Rachel. His mom caught me at school and told me that her son loved having Rachel in his wagon train group. I commented that that was so sweet and thanks for sharing. “I want you to know why though. He says that Rachel always comes prepared, always has her homework done, asks good questions and she is funny.” That melted my heart! You see, I suspect this young man will be able to hire someone with a disability some day. His time with Rachel will remind him of the abilities of people with Down syndrome. He will not be fearful. He will embrace it.
Finally, a little example of how and what Rachel learns. Last year they read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Rachel didn’t like the book. I noticed that she made like a D on her quiz so I contacted the teacher. I was not upset but I was trying to figure out what was going on. She said that she really seemed to struggle with it. The teacher had been great with doing her modifications and accommodations and we agreed to let Rachel re-take parts of the quiz. I was discussing this with Rachel and she reiterated her dislike for the book. I often tell her I don’t like unloading the dishwasher but I still have to do it. Finally she said, “You know Uncle Tom’s Cabin is like Hairspray, mommy.” I looked puzzled and wanted her to tell me more. Rachel loves the movie and musical versions of Hairspray and she told me this, “They don’t like black people in Hairspray and they don’t like them in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I don’t like that. It makes me sad.” I was impressed and confident that she understood what she needed to understand.
From George in kindergarten to her middle school friends and classes, the power of inclusion is that it does just as much for those who don’t wear the label of disabled as it does for a girl named Rachel.