Friday, June 26, 2015

Widening the Circle...First Thoughts

I'm involved in a summer book study of Widening the Circle: The Power of Inclusive Classrooms by Mara Sapon-Shevin. I joined the book study because for the past several years I have been scheduled to teach classes with a high number of students who receive some kind of SpEd accommodations. As a regular education teacher, the sum total of my formal training in the area of Special Education is one graduate level research.  Useless to say the least, but it fuled the requirement, and was the only course that fit my schedule at the time.  Since then, I have had numerous conversations with Special Ed teachers, paraprofessionals, students and parents, as well as attending g workshops and reading as much as I can to try and add to my bag of tricks so I can best serve the students in my class (read: feel slightly less like a bumbling idiot).

So here I am starting this book, and right from the introduction, I'm recognizing my own daughter. DD1 is graduating high school this very evening, and I couldn't be more proud (read:sobbing mess).  She is not a SpEd student, and I didn't think this book was about her, but I was wrong.  When she was six weeks old, we discovered that she has a life-threatening allergy to dairy. Along the way peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, peaches and sesame were added to the list, just to make life more interesting. I went back to work when she was six weeks old (and that's how we discovered the allergy) and shortly thereafter we enrolled her in a private daycare center. The director was not happy to be accepting a child with allergies as severe as hers. The bottle-only months were uneventful, and once she started solids, I just sent all her food. When she joined the toddler classes, I prepared lunches that matched what was on the daycare menu. Every. Day.  Things went pretty smoothly, the teachers were great, the only issue we had was when I asked to be informed ahead of time when a classmate woe be bringing treats for the class, so I could bring something for my daughter. I was told it was an unreasonable request. Fast-forward to the day when I brought a holiday treat for the entire class (something that was also safe for my daughter to eat) and one girl told the other kids not to eat my daughter's "weird food". No one did.  Fast forward again to kindergarten in her Catholic school where they insisted (despite my protests and evidence from food allergy advocate groups) that she could only be safe sitting at a special "peanut-free" table in the lunchroom. There were no other students with food allergies in the school at that time.  Once she came to public school -- the district where I teach -- I had an administrator address me in regard to her, with a note of pity in his voice, "now, she's a special needs student, right?" I told him no, and explained the allergy, but the fact remains that maybe if I had said yes, she wouldn't be graduating without ever havin tased a school lunch. I know, she didn't miss much, and I've told her so, and SHE surely doesn't feel any sense of loss, but the option was never there for her on days she forgot to bring something. Class celebrations are ALWAYS food-centered (and it's almost always pizza) and she cannot participate. For her, it has simply become something she is accustomed to. For me, it has always been heartbreaking. After six years of Marching Band, there was nothing she could eat at her Senior Banquet. Graduation rehearsal? Pizza for everyone. Well, not quite everyone. And I'm sure she isn't alone in our class of seniors whether by medical necessity or dietary choice. Either way, as a school community, we need to become more aware. And now that I'm no longer. "Walking conflict of interest" on this particular issue, I feel like I can make my voice be heard, and maybe make a positive change for others in the boat my daughter was in.

And many heartfelt thanks to the teachers along the way go always has Skittles or Twizzlers on hand when the other kids got chocolate. You will always be remembered, even though she woul never have complained otherwise.

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