High School General Education Inclusion Matters
Image credit: shutterstock.com
The story of my daughter Miranda
I’ll just start by saying this will be personal. It will be about my daughter and her experience in high school. I am a Solo Mom, and she is my youngest child. It will also be much bigger than that. It will be about the expectations we have for teens who have more significant disabilities and what they will do after high school.
Let’s start with my girl.
Miranda is in 11th grade at our local high school. She walks to school and sometimes walks home in the dark. Miranda goes to electives such as catering, drawing and painting, and choir. She attends without a paraeducator.
Miranda also goes to general-education language arts and social studies classes. In those classes she does have some para support, but they don’t sit with her.
Her math skills are way below a high school level, so she goes to a special-education class with four students and works on math as described in her individualized education program (IEP). It gives her a break, and she finally started to like math in this small class.
Miranda eats lunch with peers without disabilities, and she is in two clubs that meet once a week. She is on the girls’ swim team and swims with them four days a week after school. She has been in the school play for the past two years. I saw the show but not the rehearsals.
Miranda has an intellectual disability (she prefers the term learning disability) and significant speech articulation issues. All academics are challenging for her.
Her high school has over 2,000 students, and she is known by many.
All of the other 15 students who have significant support needs attend the same high school, but they only go to the special-education classrooms and adaptive physical education. They are mixed and matched for different parts of their schedule, but they are not included in any general-education classes. Mostly their parents are fine with the situations. They know there are caring and kind teacher and aides supporting their children.
So why does it matter that Miranda is included in many typical high school experiences?
It matters because Miranda has dreams. She wants to live independently. She wants to work in the recycling/environmental field. She wants to swim at the local recreation center. She wants to be fully included in the community as an adult, and she knows what that looks and feels like since she is fully included in school.
The students who work beside her in language arts or with whom she chats while cutting veggies in catering are the same group of people who will be in her life as an adult. They will be her potential roommates, employers, coworkers, mechanics, grocery clerks, bank tellers, and everything else.
Miranda learns to handle fast conversations, to step up and present, to follow directions, to share her opinion, to listen to others, to be ready to work, to manage her things, time, and tasks. She learns to be with the people who will be in her world now and forever. She learns all that because she is in class with students without disabilities.
All of Miranda’s work is modified as she can’t do what her peers do—but that is not the point. She can learn parts of the curriculum. She can participate in class discussions. She may need to have a modified textbook or get an audio version of the novel. She may only do some of the homework and parts of the tests. Grades are not the point.
The point is she will become an adult with these peers. She will work in her community alongside people without disabilities. She will live and shop and play in her community because she belongs there. She will know how to be with people with and without disabilities, and they will know how to be with her.
The students (and staff) learn just as important lesson: they learn that people like Miranda who have learning disabilities are more like them than not. They get to know her and learn how to work beside her to cook, write, practice, and discuss.
The tragic truth is that the other students who are in a segregated program are very likely to stay in segregated settings as adults. They are very likely to be in day programs with only other adults with disabilities. They are at a high risk of being institutionalized, put in a nursing home, and left out of their own communities.
One could argue that Miranda has more skills and is “higher functioning” than many of the other students are, and that’s true in many ways. But she also got where she is because she has always been fully included. She learned how to behave in a general-education classroom because she was always in one. Miranda was unintelligible in kindergarten. She didn’t know her letters or how to hold a pencil. But she could mimic what her peers were doing and learn the skills.
What she learned most of all is that she belongs.
As a Solo Mom, I won’t always be here to guide and protect Miranda. But I can do that now by making sure she has a place in the world that is as similar to the ones her brothers and friends and cousins have.
Tonight we will curl her hair and she’ll put on a pretty dress because she is going to the homecoming dance with her friends she met in history and choir; friends who see her for what she can do and not what she can’t.
And that is why it’s important that students with significant support needs be in general-education classrooms.
Anna Stewart is ESME’s Kids with Special Needs Resource Guide and the Solo Mom of a daughter and two sons on the brink of adulthood. She’s a champion for the rights of people living with disabilities and those who love them.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.