Inclusive Schools Network - Including Samuel Discussion, Part 1

Uploaded by inclusiveschools on 09.01.2009


Welcome and Happy Inclusive Schools Week. This is a wonderful way in which to kick off our 8th Annual Inclusive Schools week.
Some folks usually ask, well what do you mean when you talk about an inclusive school? And, what you’re about to see
in Dan’s film is a school that’s on this journey of becoming more inclusive.
No one quite really arrives because diversity changes. But when we talk about inclusive schools, it’s a school that’s both welcoming of
and capable of educating the naturally diverse population of young people that come through its doors – very plain and simple.
Always, inclusive schools are not just about children and youth with disabilities – it’s about that natural diversity.
And as you all know, we struggle with that in so very many ways both in schools and in society,
and so we started Inclusive Schools Week 8 years ago as an event, an opportunity to both celebrate
how far we have come along in making our schools more inclusive. But also, how far we have to go.

Inclusive schools, just general awareness because obviously it can’t be contained to a week
because I think too often we look at this as a program or a one year effort. It’s really a philosophy
around what we want education to be and I hope that we see education as something that welcomes every child in to our
schools regardless of their individual needs or idiosyncrasies. What I’m going to do is very briefly,
because I’m excited to show you the film, there’s a lot more to talk about once you watch the film –
I think your going to enjoy it; so very briefly tell you why I made this film.
It’s kind of a lot to ask your family to be the subjects of a documentary film, which is what you’re going to see and hear.
So, really this started almost five years ago.
Samuel was doing quite well but was getting strep throat again, again, and again.
And my wife and I decided, this is ridiculous, every time he gets strep throat, because of his underlying health issues,
he would go to the hospital, because he couldn’t hold down food.
So, we said, lets do a tonsillectomy, and we did it up at Dartmouth, but it didn’t go quite as planned
and he actually developed a really sever pneumonia coming out of that.
As you may imagine, any kid with underlying health fragility these things are never as simple as you hoped they would be.
So, he was in the intensive care unit for about two weeks up at Dartmouth, and while we were there,
his neurologist who was the attending, actually said to me – you should document this.
You should take your background as a photo-journalist, which I had been doing for almost 20 years at the time,
and apply that to telling your story about what its like to have a child with disabilities.
And that kind of blew my mind because I wasn’t thinking anything about photography at that point.
I was just thinking about the health of Samuel.
So, it was a really great way to start to burn off this sort of nervous energy I was feeling, some of this anxiety
Betsy and I were feeling around not just that immediate health crisis but this whole maze of disability
and inclusive education that we were kind of figuring out.
They don’t, unfortunately, hand you a playbook when you have a child with disabilities,
saying here is what you need to do, you have to really figure it out from scratch.
Right at that same time, I was actually going through this year-long program at the place I now work,
The Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire
that taught parents how to be advocates for their kids, it was like a boot camp on disability advocacy.
So, for a year, every weekend, one weekend a month we would come together with families from around the state
and talk about the legal issues, the educational issues, healthcare issues, public policy
around disability rights and inclusive education. It was an incredible program and it really got us thinking about
inclusion as kind of the key variable that was going to give Samuel a happy life.
Schools are the cornerstone of community. We all, I think, could agree with that in this room.
If you’re not part of your school, how could you possibly be part of your community? And that’s I think
to me the core of inclusion. So that was going on. And the third and final thing
that I’ll tell you about that happened at the same time, amazingly, was I was having a photo exhibit
going around some high schools of my work as a photo-journalist. I went to one high school in New Hampshire
called Holderness and the students really liked the work I had done but said they couldn’t really connect
to the subject matter without seeing video, without seeing people talk, interact and move.
And that really was a wake-up call for me to say, if I want to really reach young people,
which I desperately do because that is where social change happens, I think, with the youth,
it’s got to be a film. So those three forces got me thinking in this direction.
So what I tried to do with this film is, I hope you’ll find it does this, is as a journalist take a really objective
kind of documentary look at this topic because if your sugarcoat a topic, make it look too easy,
it doesn’t help anybody – its not credible to teachers, administrators, parents, anybody.
So, I tried to take a balanced look but kind of show my passion as a parent for inclusion and really
try to pick apart and show our journey and why it’s been so important to us. I want you to enjoy the film,
I think it’s not necessarily just like eating brussel sprouts, it’s a fun film to watch at times
my kids can be funny, some of the other people in the film can be funny and its challenging at times as well.
So, I am looking forward to having a conversation with you about it afterwards.

Its really, its amazing. I was saying to David earlier before the show, the thing I am really trying to do now
is create partnerships with groups like you because I think that that is the way that national movements happen,
that is the way real change happens, you can’t do everything yourself, you have to collaborate.
I think that collaborating with Inclusive Schools Network and hopefully EDC becomes a way that we can
get this a part of our cultural dialogue, that this is not just about Samuel.
This is not just about what’s right for Samuel, what’s right for Alana, what’s right for Emily.
This is really about what’s right for our communities, what’s right for our schools, what’s right for our society
and I think that an important conversation to have is why is this right for our society because I don’t take it
for granted that people say, “Oh inclusion, that’s the right thing to do – let’s just do it.” I don’t think it’s that simple,
I don’t think it’s that easy to sell a lot of communities. I think that there is a lot of concern, skepticism,
confusion, misinformation about what this all means. So, a couple of little anecdotes…
Samuel loves to race out of the house every morning with me at 7:25 so he can meet all his friends
at the tree and we can walk to school together and I don’t know about you but when I was a kid
I remembered the walks to school more then I remembered school – in elementary school at least.
It’s just this kind of cultural, social phenomenon where a lot of the way you engage with your peers
is not even in the classroom but it’s about getting to know them in the classroom,
having them get to know the nuances of your personality, your sense of humor.
Having Samuel in the classroom, I think has certainly benefitted him but I have seen ways it’s benefitted all
the students and teachers. We have a lot of refugee resettlement happening in central New Hampshire,
you know you have some of that here – a lot of refugees from Africa, from Iraq, former Yugoslavia
and we had a child from Burundi come to the classroom last year to start school. The kids were just
inherently patient with this child. They were very tolerant of his way of communicating that was
different from theirs. They really showed him compassion and wanted him to be accepted in to the classroom.
And the teacher, Ms. O’Brien said, that is because of Samuel, that is Samuel’s gift to them –
that kind of patience and compassion. And even beyond that, Ms. O’Brien says in the film and
I’ve heard this from teachers, again and again and again, teaching an inclusive classroom has made me a
better teacher because it’s forced me to find out ways to reach all children in different ways of learning styles.
So, whether it’s kinetic learning, or experiential learning, or auditory learning,
they are finding ways to reach kids that’s going to benefit all the kids in the classroom.
We have this child from Burundi who’s benefitting, but let’s say that child’s grandparent has a stroke or
develops Alzheimer’s and is suddenly moving in different ways, communicating in different ways, using a wheelchair.
These kids are going to be exposed to the fact that the disability is a part of the natural diversity of our society.
This is not something that should be separated out and I hope that one day we see separate classrooms
like we now would look at a classroom or a school where you got a classroom for African Americans, a class for Latinos,
a high school class room for kids who have come out as being gay, you know, that kind of segregation I think
would not be tolerated now, but frankly it’s still really being seen as the norm in most of the schools in our country.
Inclusion is not the norm. Inclusion is sometimes more challenging but I think that the path of least resistance
for Administrators, for Principals, for Superintendents is separate classrooms and separate schools.
I think that is literally the path of least resistance because they can just put all those kids in a room and say –
“we’ll hire a couple of people, we’ll teach them over there and we’ll kind of forget about them.”
I think inclusion is sometimes more challenging but it gives so much to the classroom and
one last thing about that. I think when you think about teachers and what it does for the curriculum
and for the community, I’ve heard again and again that it builds stronger communities.
When you have kids with this kind of diversity it teaches kids a lesson really early on that we’re not all the same,
there is diversity in our society and disability is part of that diversity. So, when they go out in to the world,
when they are working alongside people, living alongside people, commuting alongside people with disabilities
it’s not this thing that freaks them out, it’s just part of the natural world.
And often, the people who are most reluctant to ask us questions are adults and not kids. Kids want to know,
they want to kind of get this. I mean, think about where we’ve come. Recycling is now the norm in many communities.
In New Hampshire, we have civil unions, who would have thought that, you know, years ago, but that is now the norm.
So much has happened that you couldn’t foresee happening that I have a lot of hope that inclusion
will someday be seen as the norm but we’ve got a long way to go before it gets to that.