Tears persisted as I read Kendahl Throckmorton’s beautifully-compelling piece about her precious daughter’s kindergarten plans:
Hazel will be fully included in kindergarten in the fall with her peers – with the help of an aide. We aren’t looking to prove that Hazel can “keep up.” We aren’t looking to create a place where Hazel will do everything exactly the same as her peers. We aren’t looking to pretend she doesn’t have Down syndrome and the extra “stuff” that comes along with that diagnosis.
We are looking for her to experience childhood. We are looking for friends. We are looking for stories of our kiddo playing with yours during free time. We are looking for others to see and accept Hazel exactly as she is ALONGSIDE them. Not from a distance. Not from a room down the hall.
If Hazel learns her colors in kindergarten, great. If she learns her numbers and letters and can put on her own coat when asked, you better believe we will all be cheering her on.
But if she doesn’t? What if she spends her math time coloring? What if she needs three extra minutes to put on her coat? What if her ABCs don’t sound anything like the other kids? Are these reasons for her to be excluded? Should she have to sing her ABCs in a room down the hall so she isn’t a distraction? Should she have to put on her coat somewhere where others aren’t inconvenienced by her delay? Should she have to watch her friends walk off the bus into a room full of kids while she is ushered elsewhere because these things make her too different?
We want inclusion for Hazel. But we also want it for your child. What if your child was the one who helped Hazel get her coat on? Or told Hazel they liked her coloring even though your child had to do math? What if Hazel being in the classroom taught your child a little more patience, grace, and kindness?
Can I really dream? What if parents of kids WITHOUT special needs were also fighting for full inclusion for kids like Hazel?
I do not know Kendahl – she lives two states away in Illinois. However, she graciously granted me permission to use her piece in today’s column. I cannot include a picture of her daughter, but believe me – Hazel is the very definition of cute!
My inner English teacher first needs to object to a couple of terms. I am not a fan of the label “inclusion.” In my opinion, a child is a child is a child, and inclusion should be a foregone conclusion. Similarly, “special needs” is an unnecessary distinction. Every child has special needs. Heck, we adults have special needs, too. “Inclusion” and “special needs” are boxes into which we conveniently stick kids, pretending to know all about them. Fortunately, Hazel no longer needs these descriptors: all the kindergarteners will be in the same room at the same time – with each other. What a concept!
I inventoried my own experiences with some endearing people it is my pleasure to know. Cousins of the same age, Molly and Amy played together during childhood and grew up in loving families as older sisters to appropriately rascally brothers. The girls became fellow Falcons when Molly’s Lawnview class took up residence at Amy’s school, GHS. And their cousinhood inspired Amy to enroll her own children in Lawnview’s preschool, knowing their lives would be immeasurably and positively impacted by their unique experiences there.
I also recalled what Marco and Leo’s grandmother told me about my great-nephews. Although the older brother, Marco often found himself in difficult situations. With no parental prompting, kid brother Leo innately recognized those situations and stepped up to help. That’s what brothers are for, is it not?
Another set of greats-and-grands, Jarrett, Grayson, and Finnley, enjoy their brand of cousinship. Jarrett’s college sister has been the best sibling a guy could hope to have – and Jarrett is a pretty great brother. But the fourth-and-fifth-grader cousins get along famously. Grayson is a top-notch baseball player, so it is extra fun when Finnley joins the boys for cousin baseball in the yard.
At school, Jarrett is in a community classroom filled with fourth graders, sort of a homeroom. He leaves often to work on his lessons; but he loves returning to the room where his friends are, and they are always glad to see him again.
All kids, those in Jarrett’s community room and Hazel’s kindergarten classmates, possess an important similarity: they bring great curiosity to their learning. They wonder and ask questions and watch and touch. Being judgmental does not occur to them – until some misguided adult introduces that unfortunate habit.
One of my favorite children’s books is One Big Heart by Linsey Davis, a charming rhymed story of kids in one tiny classroom. The children discover and respect their own talents and challenges as well as those of their classmates. Their experiences are, as Ms. Davis subtitled her book, A Celebration of Being More Alike Than Different.
Perhaps Ally and Finnley and Grayson and Hazel and Jarrett and Leo and Marco and all the other kids out there will someday lead us from our currently-fractured society to a time when all of us – adults included – will accept each other as being more alike than different. What a world that would be!
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.