There’s a land that I see where the children are free
And I say it ain’t far to this land from where we are
~ Free To Be You And Me
Ooh, Mama! This song is perfect for Inclusion Week!
Inclusive Schools Week is over. I can stop moving at hyper-speed – juggling like a court jester on amphetamines. I can breathe. Hell, I might even get some sleep. OK, that last one might be a little ambitious, but a girl can dream.
Every morning last week, I sent out a note to our entire school community. I shared news of that day’s ISW events, issued an ‘assignment’ to the adults and ended with a quote of the day. Exhausted on Thursday night, I went to bed before writing Friday’s note. I was spent after running our Pizza, Bake and Inspiration Sale and decided that the note would have to wait until the morning. Besides, I really had no idea what I wanted to say.
At 5 o’clock on Friday morning, I sat bolt upright in bed with a single phrase running through my head – the end of the beginning. I bolted out of bed and nearly ran down the stairs to the computer. What follows is the last of my daily letters to our school.
The End of the Beginning
As Inclusion Week draws to a close, I am amazed at all that we have done. I am exhilarated and gratified by the coalescence of so many individuals around the subscription to the ideal that each and every member of our community is to be valued, celebrated and INCLUDED.
It was a heady week filled with activities and projects and conversations about what inclusion is and why it matters. With your support, we even raised $427 to buy items off of the Inclusion Wish List!
There is much to be proud of and I can’t possibly tell you how grateful I am to all who participated.
To Ms. F, Ms. F and Ms. E – Thank you for leading the charge on staff. Your energy and enthusiasm this week were matched only by your passionate dedication to our children.
Thank you to all of the staff members who participated – those who came to Including Samuel, those who sent notes home to parents, those who read and discussed books with our children, those who made posters with their classes. Those like Mr. M who sent kids home buzzing with excitement about the diversity of the human experience.
And of course, a hearty thanks to Ms. W, without whose support none of this would ever be possible.
To the Inclusion Committee – Thank you for all of your time, your thoughtful ideas and your passion to make our school more welcoming, more open and more compassionate. Thank you to the teachers and staff members who joined our ranks and thank you to all of you who helped do the heavy lifting – baking goodies and handing out pizza and manning the table at movie night.
And thank YOU. None of this would mean anything without YOU.
While it was a week of celebration, it was also a week that reminded us of just how much there is yet to do. Inclusion – true educational and societal inclusion – is not something that happens simply because we declare that we want it to.
Inclusion is a process. Day to day, moment to moment – inclusion takes thought and planning and effort. It takes a mindset of hope and possibility. It takes belief in the intrinsic value and unlimited potential of each and every human being. It takes determination and tenacity. It takes compassion and empathy.
It takes the understanding that to truly come together, we must learn not just to tolerate, but to CELEBRATE our differences. There is far more than beauty in our diversity – there is incredible strength.
It’s up to us to set the example for our children.
If they see us tease, they will tease. We must rethink the easy jokes about those who are different from us. We must reconsider the words that can so easily fall off our tongues. “Retarded” has become ubiquitous, nearly accepted. It’s up to us to remove it from the lexicon of the next generation.
Yes, we must select our words with care. Words have the power to encourage, to create, to inspire. They also have the power to wound, to scar, and to destroy. And once they’re out there, we can’t take them back. Our children hear every word that we say. We MUST choose them carefully.
While the teachers do what they can to promote understanding, it is our behavior that has the most effect on our children. If they see us walk away from those who look or dress or sound different than we do, they will walk away too. If they see that we don’t make the effort to get to know and learn from one another, why would they? If we show them by our actions that any person is less worthy of our time and affections than any other, they will do the same. It is up to us to guide our children by LIVING inclusion.
For now, true communal inclusion remains an ideal. While there are incredible examples of it each and every day in our school, there are still gaping holes. There are still children being teased for how they dress or what they eat or how they talk. There are still adults who stand in unapproachable clumps at pick-up time while ignoring those who stand alone. There are still children who don’t get invited to play dates or birthday parties – EVER. Our work is just beginning.
And so today, as we close out an incredible week, I ask you to join me in marking the end of the week as the beginning of our work together. Inclusive Schools Week was a convenient place to start the conversation, but it can’t be its ending as well. If we don’t carry our passion forward, this week’s efforts will have been for naught.
Check the newsletter for notices of upcoming events. Keep a look-out for the community submissions and please feel free to submit something yourself! I’d love to hear from you.
Early in the New Year, we will host the first in our panel discussion series – Talking to our children about human differences ~ Where to begin the conversation. It should be a lively and meaningful discussion. I hope you’ll join us. Because as Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
I look forward to seeing what we can do together.
Inclusion Committee Chair