Once in awhile we meet Henry. He may be your child. Henry inspires and teaches that we all belong together. Tonight I am writing about Inclusion, in particular, one young spirit who overcame many obstacles, and his devoted mother. Mama love. Get your tissues, this story is like Rudy, Rocky and every feel-good inspirational book and movie, ever. Be sure to watch Henry's last basketball game with someone you love.
Before I moved to Eugene to be with my kids, my husband and I had a historic home in the middle of nowhere, Northern California. There were a couple of towns nearby, but our house was a kind of hang-out, with a pond, barn, community gardens, wildllife and berries. I was teaching at nearby Chapman University, and tutoring a lot of kids at the property. One day Patricia Storrs brought Henry over to work in the garden and see the house. He had been reluctant, fearful of the 1858 ghosts, incuding Mark Twain.
Henry stayed in the car for over an hour. Patti and I checked on him, let him garner courage, and then he walked the property, house and had a great time touring on his own. It was joyous seeing him emerge from that car and do his thing. I knew that day that Henry is special, in the very best way.
Henry is a hometown hero.
While Principal, we had the District LH class on our campus. First thing I did was move the kids from the trailer in the North Forty right into the middle of our campus. Our students were fully included, or nearly, most of the day and participated in every school project, club and activity. The class was in charge of the the wildlife compound outside their door. These kids were our Henry, believe me.
I am not an Inclusion expert. But tonight, Henry's story is our story. His graduation, our success. In a moment, I'm sharing what his mom sent for you. I am very grateful to Patti, his principals, teachers and most importantly, all the kids along the way who did not bully, but accepted Henry's unique differences, discovered his wisdom and became fast friends. Henry is a Hometown Hero, for sure and a champion in the best ways imaginable. We have a lot to learn from him. Tenacity. Love.
Henry graduates High School.
"Yesterday I had the joy of watching my son Henry graduate from High School. A much more emotional graduation for me than usual, as it was an event I wasn't sure would ever come to pass. Henry was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at age 4, and although he was a verbal and absolutely delightful child, we had some initial struggle in getting him settled into his neighborhood school. He was a little high maintenance: he would stand at the window of his kindergarten classroom waiting for me to return. Or stare out the window from his desk, distracted by every bird or airplane... When it was suggested that he would be better off in a special program, we fought for him to be included at his local school.
The special program was far from home and populated mostly with kids who were older and much more severely affected by ASD. In Henry's particular case, we strongly believed his needs would be best served by being immersed in his community. That more than "readin', ritin', and rithmetic'" which comprises the main educational goals of our 'typically developing' kids, Henry most importantly needed to learn how to fit into his society. How to make friends. How to live his life as a square peg in a round world.
So we worked hard and the school responded. My mom's strong convictions kept me going when I weakened (it's hard to be the only non- professional sitting at a long conference table filled with people who are disagreeing with you!). Long story, but we prevailed. Henry won. He spent academic periods in the onsite special ed program, but had a homeroom where he started his day, and joined his class for lunch, p.e., recess, library, music, story time and field trips.
Henry moved on to the local junior high without a blip, surrounded by kids who had known him since preschool. When he moved to the much larger high school, those same kids set the example for everyone else, and defended him when needed. But not much defending was needed. Henry's delightful personality wins over everyone he meets. He became a beloved member of the student body. And he did learn to read, write, and do math to his capability. He has loved school throughout. He loves his friends (and he has so many!).
Most importantly, Henry is happy.
Henry was basketball manager for two years. They called him "The Commander" and named a new perpetual award after him, "The Commander Award" for inspirational manager. Then he was recruited as a football manager, too, senior year. He won "Manager of the Year" for all sports this year!"
Watch Henry's last basketball game.
As a postscript... at Henry's final IEP meeting at the local elementary school, the principal cried. He apologized for not seeing back in kindergarten that the school was the right fit for Henry. He said, "I can't thank you enough for what Henry has brought to our school, and taught all of us, students, teachers, everyone, about inclusion and acceptance. He has been so good for all of us."
Henry's proud Mom, Mrs. Patricia Storrs
Full Inclusion for all. Make it a reality.
Beth Foraker, Supervisor/Lecturer in the Credential/Masters Program at UC Davis is mother of a special child. Beth, who is also champion for full inclusion in Catholic schools and all children, wrote me something very significant.
"These ripples of inclusion cannot be overstated. For typical students to see what's possible with access and support for people with disabilities creates a mind shift that can't help but influence the rest of their lives with an inclusive mindset.
That is everything.
Work for inclusion every day...we are all better when it happens. Just look at the possibilities!"
To all graduating students, families and loved ones, congratulations! Joyous happy tears.
Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita