We’ve come a long way in making sure ALL kids are having typical experiences in schools, recreation, employment, and life in general, but I remember a few years ago when it wasn’t the norm. My son, Andrew, was the first student in our town with extensive support needs to be fully included in regular classes throughout his school years. It was amazing to watch, especially because no one believed it could possibly work for someone with his list of labels. No one, that is, except for his family and his classmates.
In thinking about what made the struggle for equality in education worth it, I remembered a letter I received from Andrew’s kindergarten teacher at the end of that school year. It was such an important message that I still have the original copy safely stored in a folder that holds important school memories. It was this letter that let me know for sure that Andrew could learn from and make friends with his typical school peers, and that if he was to be a welcome and involved member of our community as an adult, he belonged in his neighborhood school and general education classes throughout his academic life. We have never strayed from this position since the moment I learned that his future did not need to include the majority of recommendations for a life of segregation and specialized intensive services we received from professionals in his earliest years. Once we learned about inclusive education, we turned every idea about “what Andrew coudn’t do, would never do, and shouldn’t do” into a life of possibility of how Andrew “could be, should be, and would always be” welcomed and supported to be a contributing member of his educational community. In 1989, this letter from Mrs. Willis, his kindergarten teacher, helped us shaped our vision:
“June 14, 1989
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Dixon,
It is report card time in kindergarten and it is important to me to include Andrew and you in my reporting.
Andrew can and does work and play well with others, Andrew is learning to share and take turns, Andrew waits better for his turn, Andrew shows great progress in adjusting to new situations, Andrew is listening better, Andrew’s attention span has lengthened. Andrew is able to take directions from teachers, aides, and children. Andrew uses manipulation and observation to learn. Andrew participates and enjoys music and art and physical education activities.
Andrew has shown so much growth in skills. Beyond that, however, are the tremendous gains he has made as an individual and as just one individual in our very lively group. I do NOT take lightly that gain at all!
Andrew has brought joy and understanding and fun and love to all of us. I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to work with Andrew and facilitate some of the gains.
I also am glad to have had the opportunity to help Andrew become just one of the kids and you (as parents) become just another set of kindergarten parents. I share your happiness with both these facts.
Andrew has helped me remember just what teaching is all about. Thank you for sending me such a delightful reminder.
Andrew is grown now. He graduated from high school with his class, attended college classes, owns his own business, and lives in his own home—all with the supports necessary to be successful. Those supports included some excellent teachers; many good school and family friends; people paid to support him so that he might participate in all situations; neighbors; co-workers; community members; and of course, his family.
None of this would have been possible without the dream and vision that grew in us from that original note from his kindergarten teacher who saw the person we saw—a 6-year old boy with the desire to live a full life—and the community of friends and classmates he has gathered on his journey.
– Beth Dixon
Beth, a parent of four children and grandparent of four, is interested in equality for all people in all areas that affect our lives–education, social/friendship ties, work environments, housing options, recreation opportunities, and more. Beth enjoys organizing and presenting best practices to participants at the NH Leadership Series. Watching people change and broaden their expectations for themselves and/or their children is exciting to her–but even more exciting is watching them become involved in their communities and in public life. Beth Dixon was honored in May 2011 with the Presidential Award of Excellence, an award given annually to five staff members who have demonstrated excellence through outstanding performance in their positions and a record of dedication to, and a concern for, the University community. Throughout the past 20 plus years of Beth’s tenure at the IOD, she has been responsible for growing a cornerstone program of the organization, the NH Leadership Series. As a result of Beth’s leadership and organizational talents, over 800 individuals with disabilities, their families, and graduate students have been trained in evidence-based practices to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities, their families, and their communities.