An inclusion revoluton at camp
What a fun week! I am helping run our district’s first ever summer camp for students in special education. It is happening alongside a camp that is run by the foundation that provides after school care and camps for our district families. It's really cool because our campers recognize some of their peers and the staff and they too get to be part of this great summer experience . We are starting small, we have 5 campers and 2 elementary aged peer buddies and for most of the day we are in our own classroom so while it’s far from being truly inclusive, it is a step in the right direction and again, it’s fun! A common question among parents of children with disabilities is “what is Luke going to do all summer?” My Luke has never gone to camp. He has ESY (Extended School Year) each summer but camp has never been an option as I would have had to go with him or pay someone to go with him. The staff at camp are curious and ask questions about what we are doing with our campers…um, “the same Adventure Week activities the rest of the campers are doing, slightly modified.” And the Foundation has heard that we feel they need to reach every student in our school district and they get to see first hand that our campers are having just as much fun, if not more fun, than the rest of the group! We modify the camp curriculum and incorporate breaks, bubbles, rocket launchers and other fun stuff. We have a long way to go, most of it involving $$, to be able to provide aides and nursing for some of our students but we will get there!
Our campers who are in special education are the BEST! I mean the best! We have one that cracks me up and he has so much energy ( I am exhausted from playing tag this morning), one little guy who has his own agenda so don’t try to change it and gives you best smile ever, one who is extremely creative, one who has a lot of sensory needs but 1 thing they all have in common, they are all having a lot of fun at camp. Our 2 elementary peer helpers are so incredibly natural with the entire group. We have some unique learners in our class and these peer buddies just know how to talk to, ask questions, give directions, and take direction from the teacher volunteers at camp.Yes, we have 2 teachers who were happy to volunteer their time at camp during their first week of vacation. It’s a great group and we even had our Director of Special Education on a scooter board racing with a couple of the students today. How cool is that? Our district has the right people in place to take inclusion to the next level, starting with summer camp!
Our inclusive community is what it is because of some amazing individuals! I stole the title of this blog from a group of elementary students in our district who truly embrace inclusion both at school and in the community. Most of the families in this group don’t even have a student with a disability, but these are the students who are the peer buddies, who volunteer in our special day classes, who help run a coffee cart with our students in special education, who participate in compassion days at school, talk to and interact with out kiddos and who have play dates with friends of all abilities outside of school, I could go on and on. I believe that because they have been exposed to students of all abilities they are not phased by a nonverbal student or one who uses an AAC device or the student who stems or one who has a g-tube or is in a wheelchair. They are used to seeing students of all abilities in general education classrooms and around school so they know how to talk to and interact with everyone. And they know that all students just want to be seen, be heard, get a high five or knuckles and to connect with their peers.
Our district does a great job with inclusion but we still have a long way to go. How do you build an inclusive community in your district or at your school? How do you do it in your community? It starts with parents and school staff who have ideas and who want to make change. An active group of parents with special needs children who can find the parents of typical peers who see inclusion is a win-win, administration that supports and encourages it and teachers and staff who work together to make it possible. Find your core group. Start a parent group in your district. We did. The Special Education Advisory Committee. Brainstorm ideas, figure out a way to make them happen. We are still trying to figure out how to reach more parents and find the ones who want to be involved. It’s a process but it can be done. Take the first step. Set up a meeting with your superintendent or director of special education. Share your ideas. Find like minded parents. Set something up. Just one thing. Compassion Day at your school. A monthly coffee chat/brainstorming session with other parents or start a special education advisory committee. Make sure you find the right people. People who want to make change, are solution driven and are in it for the right reason. Think about your teachers, service providers, instructional aides and administration. They are out there, and there are more of them than you can think, you just have to find them. Your village.
Tomorrow is the last day of camp and we have a few more activities and games planned. We will also be going into one of the other classes for a social/emotional lesson. I am so happy that these students and their families have the opportunity to be part of summer camp. And I am so happy that I have the opportunity to be part of it too. Again, a win-win!