the inclusion committee

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A half a glass of wine.

A laptop precariously balanced on my legs.

My girls, playing with Legos in a corner of the den – parallel play, but it’s play and we’re together and I’ll take it.

A speech looming. Tomorrow night – short, sweet. ‘Hello, my name is Jess. I’m your liaison to the special education advisory council. I need your help. A conversation about inclusion is useless if it doesn’t include the whole community. Will you join in the conversation?’

I will shake like a leaf.

I will choke up.

I will try my damnedest not to cry.

I will get through it.

I take a sip of wine.

What can I say to parents who don’t have to listen? Who can come to back to school night, collect their paperwork, meet the teachers, proudly look over their child’s work and head on home without looking back? How can I get their attention in five minutes? How can I get them to sign onto the school inclusion committee – or even convince them that there IS an inclusion committee - cause um, I just made it up.

Another sip of wine.

“Time to shower, girls. head on up with Daddy. I’ll be up in a couple of minutes.”

Katie lingers in the doorway, turns around.

“Mama, why do you type?”

“Huh?”

“Why do you do that?”

“Why do I write, you mean?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, baby, sometimes things can feel pretty big. When I write about them, I can organize them – work through them. They feel less overwhelming that way. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah, I do that too. And sometimes, when things are good, if I write about them, then I remember later.”

We smile at each other – the warm, knowing smile of kindred spirits.

“Head up to the shower, sweetheart.”

“OK, Mama.”

Another sip of wine as she pads up the stairs.

I read what I’ve written.

I must tell you that it is not easy in a school like this to stand at a podium looking out over this sea of faces and to say, ‘My child has special needs.’ I am well aware that by doing so I may be opening myself and my child up to criticism or ridicule. But I am absolutely convinced – just as the sun will rise tomorrow, that if we don’t speak openly about the fact that our children ALL have different strengths, different challenges, and in some cases different educational needs, then we will never break down the stigma of special education.

I know that many of you are uncomfortable with the outdated term, ‘special education’. I wish I had a different name for it, but what we call it is semantic. I believe that how we treat one another and how we teach our children to treat one another is all that really matters.

Our school system is built on the premise of inclusion. Inclusive schools – those that individualize teaching practices and offer support to meet the needs of as many children as possible – benefit all of their students socially, emotionally and academically. These schools are founded on the notion that each and every child, without exception has something of value to contribute their community.

It sounds simple enough. But we all went to elementary school. We all know that it takes a lot more than an educational theory to make true inclusion work. Our principal and every member of her staff here tonight do a superb job of supporting inclusion. But they need our support too.

Our kids need to hear from US that it’s never OK to tease or to bully. That all kids are worth getting to know. That by embracing the weak, they will be the strong. That the true definition of ‘cool’ is including and respecting everyone around them.

Human nature is often driven by innate insecurity. It can be easy to lash out at what we don’t understand. As the parent of a child who sometimes needs just a little extra compassion, I implore you to join me in showing our children that reaching out is far more rewarding than lashing out.

So, as much as I stand before you as a special education parent, I am asking all of you to join in the discussion. Inclusion is not just a special education issue. By definition, it is just as much a topic about the effective education of all of our children.

In December, our school will again join schools around the country in celebrating Inclusive Schools Week. I urge you to get involved in this wonderful event. This is the perfect opportunity to join together in celebrating the beautiful and diverse tapestry that makes this place so special.

I stop, take another sip of wine.

Katie’s gone, but our conversation lingers – ‘sometimes things can feel pretty big.’

Indeed.

I take a deep breath.

I hear the shower turning off.

The words aren’t what I want them to be yet, but I close the computer. It can wait. It will wait. It’s cuddle time.

I take one last sip.

I’ll revise it tomorrow. I’ll make it better. And then I’ll stand up in front of all those parents and talk.

I will shake like a leaf.

I will choke up.

I will try my damnedest not to cry.

I will get through it.

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39 thoughts on “the inclusion committee

  1. Whatever you say to them, I have no doubt you will move and empower many people, Jess. Don’t worry if you don’t touch all of their hearts or minds the first time out. Remember it’s an ongoing conversation. All it takes is one or two to join in. Like those old shampoo commercials, “They’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends…” And so it goes.

    Knock ‘em dead. xo

  2. yes you will jess! you will get through. and you will enable lots of people to see a bigger picture than they realized was there.And you will invite them to be a part of it…like missing pieces, unless they are a part of it. you will shake like a leaf…like a very beautiful, unique autumn leaf that is one of the first to change from the “conformity” of green. like your “middle ground”, you will expose your brilliant yellow, rich orange and deep red. you go girl!

  3. They’ll listen! Some won’t comprehend but for the most part they’ll listen! How can they not? When it’s someone as eloquent and as lovely as you!

    Go get’em, Tiger!

  4. And you will look out into the faces of many people who love you, love your children and support you! (And appreciate your courage!)

  5. …and I had the mind-blowing experience of sitting in the audience at an Autism Speaks “kick-off” last Spring when you got up. The audience laughed and cried with you and the standing ovation that you got (yet again) was pretty damn meaningful, too. Not to worry, Sweetheart! Just, go get them! Keep on getting them!

    Love,
    Mom

  6. you will be wonderful.
    you are a conduit for all that needs to be said, and the words and feeling will be exactly what they are supposed to be through you.
    love to you.

  7. I wish that the schools (we tried 5!) that my son was in were even “progressive” enough to let someone make that speech. That’s why we home school now. Keep fighting and know that you are making a huge difference for kids like ours. What you do now will have an effect for years to come.

  8. OH my gosh. I’ve been thinking about just this topic as my son has entered kindergarten this year and in my mind has left the protective bubble of special ed preschool. I’ve been wondering about the parents of all the typical kids and about how much they could change the face of inclusion. About how their parenting (and lack thereof) will affect how their children treat my son. And how I could help change things.

    Good luck with your speech. I had tears in my eyes as I read it. If I were to be in the audience I would surely cry.

    You may shake like a leaf and cry but just remember that there will be parents sitting out there with special children who couldn’t say what you will be saying. They will be so thankful for your voice. AND those of us in blogland who read your blog and cheer for you and your girls are so INSANELY proud of you and are an invisible support system. Think of us all standing behind you, holding out pictures of our special children who deserve to be included, respected, accepted for their differences.

    Thank you for your voice.

  9. For me the most important part of this last offering was the moment you took with Katie. The lesson was wonderful as was the easy way you made her your focus when she asked her question. Our time with our children when they are young goes so quickly that we must always stop to take the time to imprint the clay. To never miss the opportunity to help them to learn better ways to make their lives as bountiful as possible. So while you worried and worked on “your” speech, you took the time to love one of your girls and imprint the clay with your special something. That’s real parenting. How lucky Broke and Katie are. How lucky we all are.
    Love you,
    Dad

  10. “I believe that how we treat one another and how we teach our children to treat one another is all that really matters” – AMEN. And thank you. I’m going to find out about Inclusion Week and make sure my sons’ schools (both of them!) participate.

  11. I’ll be there to cheer you on. I can take on the weeping part for you if you’re too busy with making the speech.

    As long as they lower the mike stand you should be fine. :)

    Go team inclusion!

  12. You go, mama! People will surely listen. You have a gift for making that happen.

    And by the way… I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Inclusion Week. Are there materials online?

  13. My mantra for today was “I will not cry. I will not become a blubbering mess.” and now here I am a messy puddle :) I cry because you hit the nail on the head… your words have such strength and meaning. Will they listen? Yes! And I bet they will cry along with you and that is all good.

  14. Like I said … courage personified. Can Jack please go to your school? As long as Brooke’s not wearing a dress or if she does, then would she please sing songs?

  15. i have this default pessimism when it comes to addressing the General Public…when it comes to expecting a positive reaction from them. But over and over I’ve read about you and Luau and Katie and Brooke … going out there and having such a huge impact on people. People I would expected to do nothing, react with disinterest, apathy…you guys active the best in people. so, i hope the speech goes well…and maybe it’ll just happen quietly, nothing major…no initial reactions, but maybe it will do that seed thing…sort of start some people thinking, developing their awareness of difference acceptance.

    but…anyway…you: my default pessimism is always proven wrong by you and your family and a lot of the other blogs i read. you guys are the ones getting out there, actually changing people.

    so…very curious to hear how it goes.

  16. I hope the speech went great–I’m looking forward to reading about it!

    ps: I’ve got a little blog award for you over at my place!

  17. and you DID do it and you ROCKED THE HOUSE my friend!

    and you have members!!!!

    you dreamed it into existence!!!

    for you, me, your little girl, my growing boy, for all our kids!!!!

    xxxx

  18. So well done. I especially love this “Our kids need to hear from US that it’s never OK to tease or to bully. That all kids are worth getting to know. That by embracing the weak, they will be the strong. That the true definition of ‘cool’ is including and respecting everyone around them.”

    I’m stealing that quote from you – hope that’s ok but I definitely won’t take the credit for it.

  19. so, I’m in charge of writing a letter for my PAC to distribute to every parent in December for Inclusive Schools Week. Your words here are so powerful…I wanted to talk to you about “borrowing” a few of them. And although the letter is taking shape and has its own message, your language in those 2 paragraphs about teasing and bullying and insecurity and human nature are so powerful, I want everyone in my district to hear them too. I feel funny not asking you – although I know you post them here publicly for a reason. what do you think?

  20. Pingback: if i could « a diary of a mom

  21. Pingback: inclusion committee year two -and the beat goes on « a diary of a mom

  22. Love it. Speaking out for our kids makes us vulnerable, but if we don’t, who will? I love meeting people willing to put themselves out there for the benefit of our kids. You ate an inspiration.

    Also – we connected via FB regarding the autism law summit. Send me an email and I will get you the details.

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