the end of the beginning

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There’s a land that I see where the children are free
And I say it ain’t far to this land from where we are

~ Free To Be You And Me

Ooh, Mama! This song is perfect for Inclusion Week!

~ Katie

Inclusive Schools Week is over. I can stop moving at hyper-speed  – juggling like a court jester on amphetamines. I can breathe. Hell, I might even get some sleep. OK, that last one might be a little ambitious, but a girl can dream.

Every morning last week, I sent out a note to our entire school community. I shared news of that day’s ISW events, issued an ‘assignment’ to the adults and ended with a quote of the day. Exhausted on Thursday night, I went to bed before writing Friday’s note. I was spent after running our Pizza, Bake and Inspiration Sale and decided that the note would have to wait until the morning. Besides, I really had no idea what I wanted to say.

At 5 o’clock on Friday morning, I sat bolt upright in bed with a single phrase running through my head – the end of the beginning. I bolted out of bed and nearly ran down the stairs to the computer. What follows is the last of my daily letters to our school.

The End of the Beginning

As Inclusion Week draws to a close, I am amazed at all that we have done. I am exhilarated and gratified by the coalescence of so many individuals around the subscription to the ideal that each and every member of our community is to be valued, celebrated and INCLUDED.

It was a heady week filled with activities and projects and conversations about what inclusion is and why it matters. With your support, we even raised $427 to buy items off of the Inclusion Wish List!

There is much to be proud of and I can’t possibly tell you how grateful I am to all who participated.

To Ms. F, Ms. F and Ms. E – Thank you for leading the charge on staff. Your energy and enthusiasm this week were matched only by your passionate dedication to our children.

Thank you to all of the staff members who participated – those who came to Including Samuel, those who sent notes home to parents, those who read and discussed books with our children, those who made posters with their classes. Those like Mr. M who sent kids home buzzing with excitement about the diversity of the human experience.

And of course, a hearty thanks to Ms. W, without whose support none of this would ever be possible.

To the Inclusion Committee – Thank you for all of your time, your thoughtful ideas and your passion to make our school more welcoming, more open and more compassionate. Thank you to the teachers and staff members who joined our ranks and thank you to all of you who helped do the heavy lifting – baking goodies and handing out pizza and manning the table at movie night.

And thank YOU. None of this would mean anything without YOU.

While it was a week of celebration, it was also a week that reminded us of just how much there is yet to do. Inclusion – true educational and societal inclusion – is not something that happens simply because we declare that we want it to.

Inclusion is a process. Day to day, moment to moment – inclusion takes thought and planning and effort. It takes a mindset of hope and possibility. It takes belief in the intrinsic value and unlimited potential of each and every human being. It takes determination and tenacity. It takes compassion and empathy.

It takes the understanding that to truly come together, we must learn not just to tolerate, but to CELEBRATE our differences. There is far more than beauty in our diversity – there is incredible strength.

It’s up to us to set the example for our children.

If they see us tease, they will tease. We must rethink the easy jokes about those who are different from us. We must reconsider the words that can so easily fall off our tongues. “Retarded” has become ubiquitous, nearly accepted. It’s up to us to remove it from the lexicon of the next generation.

Yes, we must select our words with care. Words have the power to encourage, to create, to inspire. They also have the power to wound, to scar, and to destroy. And once they’re out there, we can’t take them back. Our children hear every word that we say. We MUST choose them carefully.

While the teachers do what they can to promote understanding, it is our behavior that has the most effect on our children. If they see us walk away from those who look or dress or sound different than we do, they will walk away too. If they see that we don’t make the effort to get to know and learn from one another, why would they? If we show them by our actions that any person is less worthy of our time and affections than any other, they will do the same. It is up to us to guide our children by LIVING inclusion.

For now, true communal inclusion remains an ideal. While there are incredible examples of it each and every day in our school, there are still gaping holes. There are still children being teased for how they dress or what they eat or how they talk. There are still adults who stand in unapproachable clumps at pick-up time while ignoring those who stand alone. There are still children who don’t get invited to play dates or birthday parties – EVER. Our work is just beginning.

And so today, as we close out an incredible week, I ask you to join me in marking the end of the week as the beginning of our work together. Inclusive Schools Week was a convenient place to start the conversation, but it can’t be its ending as well. If we don’t carry our passion forward, this week’s efforts will have been for naught.

Check the newsletter for notices of upcoming events. Keep a look-out for the community submissions and please feel free to submit something yourself! I’d love to hear from you.

Early in the New Year, we will host the first in our panel discussion series – Talking to our children about human differences ~ Where to begin the conversation. It should be a lively and meaningful discussion. I hope you’ll join us. Because as Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

I look forward to seeing what we can do together.

Jess

Inclusion Committee Chair

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20 thoughts on “the end of the beginning

  1. I agree with Kristen when she says the community is lucky to have you. I would even broaden it to say the world is lucky to have you and the few others like you who are in each community. You lead, you inspire, you effect change, and you do it with incredible style and grace.
    I think I am the proudest father that there ever was.
    Dad

  2. Congratulations on creating what sounds like an amazing inclusion week. All that time, all that energy but for such a wonderful and important message.

    Ever thought of writing a post on how others can go about creating an inclusion committee in their own schools?

    • jasmin –

      the whole thing came to be when i asked our PTO and the school principal for a few minutes on the docket at back-to-school night. i spoke to the community and asked everyone who was interested to join me in creating the committee. i had already asked the pto to add the committee to their list of volunteer opportunities.

      i wrote a post the night before i spoke to the school here ..

      http://adiaryofamom.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/the-inclusion-committee/

      i did wind up tweaking the speech a bit, but it gives you an idea of the concept.

      i was amazed at the response. i couldn’t have dreamed that we’d have over 30 people on board and that a good number of them would be staff members and parents of ‘typical’ children.

      as we came together to work on ISW, we widened our lens to make sure that we were focusing on inclusion for ALL kids – not just those with special needs but also those who might feel excluded based on socio-economic situations, family constellation, race, language, ethnicity or heritage, etc, etc. i learned far more than i taught last week.

      the Inclusive Schools Network has a website that might be a good starting point .. http://www.inclusiveschools.org/about-isn

      at some point i will try to put something together with a bit more of an explicit guide, but hopefully that helps for now.

  3. Am thinking about last week’s post, in which you explained why you’re not a rabble-rousing protester type.

    This approach, my friend, seems much more effective. Congrats.

  4. Your father says it best: ‘You lead, you inspire, you effect change, and you do it with incredible style and grace.’

    Wow, Jess. What a gift you have. (I mean, you wrote a letter like that at 5 in the morning!) I’m so thankful you use your gifts and your beautiful heart to better our communities. Thank God for you.

  5. such a beautiful letter…and exciting that everything went off so well.

    to me, the best part was that you started this and then 30 or more people signed up to help. really amazing. it’s always kind of a shock: so many people want to do something, but kind of hold back, unsure what to do. so…it’s one jess ..one person who just throws themselves out there, runs with it, and that gets the momentum going. inspiring, a perfect example of how you just have to act now, figure out the details as you go.

    so, congratulations on the week, on the momentum that’s starting there.

  6. You are my inspiration! I tell every special needs mama I know about you. When friends tell me of problems at their schools, I begin an (irritating, I’m sure) story about you and your inclusion committee idea. You need to package and market it honey, because you totally rock. Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is some Jess energy. And her shoes. xo

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

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