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← One way to create a more inclusive school

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Showing Revision 3 created 11/13/2017 by Marisa Aubin.

  1. At the beginning of fourth grade,
    I joined Peer Helpers.

  2. Peer Helpers is an inclusion program
    where students like myself
  3. can interact with students
    in Special Education.
  4. When I joined, I was looking to try
    something new
  5. because, you see, at my elementary school,
  6. there's only chess club
    and Peer Helpers,
  7. so my options were pretty limited.
  8. But the kids that I did see peer helping
    looked like they were having tons of fun.
  9. I mean, they were missing class,
  10. sitting together at lunch,
  11. and taking trips.
  12. I wanted in on that, so I joined.
  13. At the time, I had no idea I would
    eventually be meeting someone
  14. who would become
    one of my closest friends today,
  15. Henley Hager.
  16. When I first met Henley and his family,
    it was a disaster.
  17. I vividly remember talking
    to Mrs. Hager for the first time,
  18. and I had no idea what to say.
  19. It was probably something like,
  20. "Hey, Mrs. Hager, I'm here
    to work with Henley."
  21. So after I introduced myself to her,
    I finally met Henley,
  22. the boy I was going to be working with.
  23. At first, I didn't know
    what to do or say around Henley.
  24. You see, Henley has severe autism,
  25. and I had no experience working with
    anyone like that before.
  26. I'm going to be honest.
  27. It's not like I just strolled in there
    and was already best buddies with him.
  28. I was nervous,
    nervous that I might set him off,
  29. or nervous that I might do something
    to upset him,
  30. and since we're being honest,
  31. I was nervous because we as humans
    have a tendency to feel uncomfortable
  32. around people who are different than us.
  33. Regardless, over the next three years,
  34. every Wednesday, I went with Henley
    to an after-school program
  35. where we would on social
    and academic skills,
  36. such as organization,
  37. doing homework,
  38. physical exercise,
  39. calming down,
  40. helping him understand the day's plan,
  41. not complaining
    when he doesn't get his way,
  42. and engaging in small talk.
  43. But as long as I've known Henley,
    I know what he wants to do,
  44. play on the computer.
  45. But we can't always do that.
  46. So I'll provide other examples
    of what we can do,
  47. like walk around the track,
  48. use the stationary bike,
  49. or play basketball.
  50. He'll answer with yes or no,
  51. or he's gotten to the point
  52. where he will politely ask
    if we can do this activity instead.
  53. Over the years, Henley's small talk
    has greatly improved
  54. and it's not just with me,
  55. it's with every person he interacts with.
  56. That's one of the goals
    of inclusion programs.
  57. Inclusion programs benefit people
    because they develop friendships,
  58. increase achievement of IEP goals,
  59. and greater opportunities for enhance
    learning are formed.
  60. But apart from all that,
    we would go fun places.
  61. I remember one time, Henley and I
    went to the McWane Science Center
  62. in Downtown Birmingham.
  63. We had fun watching the fish,
    and stingrays, and sharks.
  64. But imagine being at the science center
  65. and hearing two teenage boys cracking up
    and giggling over nothing.
  66. Henley and I can just let out
    a quick giggle
  67. and the laugh attacks begin.
  68. I have the best time ever
    when I'm with him
  69. and I always look forward
    to spending time with him,
  70. but this trip wasn't me
    being his Peer Helper.
  71. These were just two best friends
    hanging out and watching sharks.
  72. Now, I can talk about how much
    I've done with or for Henley,
  73. but what I really want you to hear
    and what rarely gets mentioned
  74. is the fact that Henley
    has also helped me.
  75. He's helped me become more patient,
  76. I am better at working with kids
    with disabilities,
  77. and I believe I've become more
    compassionate
  78. toward those different than me.
  79. So through my interactions with Henley,
    I mentioned becoming more patient.
  80. For example, Henley takes longer
    to learn certain concepts,
  81. to do school work,
  82. and to respond to certain questions.
  83. And because of this, I've learned to
    repeat myself without getting frustrated,
  84. or at least making
    that frustration visible.
  85. Somebody should teach my mom that.
  86. But let me be clear.
  87. Many times it was frustrating,
    but you can't get mad at him
  88. because he's not intentionally
    trying to be difficult.
  89. He's just taking his time and adjusting
    to the task at hand
  90. the best way he knows how.
  91. Understanding this has made me
    a more patient person
  92. in all aspects of life.
  93. And apart from patience,
  94. I've become better at working
    with kids with special needs.
  95. In your everyday school,
  96. a majority of students pretend
    like students in the Special Ed department
  97. don't even exist.
  98. They walk through the halls,
  99. talk to their friends,
  100. and ignore those with special needs.
  101. Rarely do people interact with these
    students in a positive and helpful way.
  102. But I've learned that through
    interacting with students like Henley,
  103. when you ignore those with
    special needs,
  104. you're missing out on a gift.
  105. So from fourth to seventh grade,
    I worked exclusively with Henley,
  106. and that partnership,
    that friendship,
  107. is one of the best things
    that has ever happened to me.
  108. I have loved working with Henley,
  109. and becoming a Peer Helper
    was one of the best decisions of my life.
  110. But sadly, not all students
    have this opportunity.
  111. After researching, I was shocked
    to find that people with special needs
  112. do not have enough, if any,
    Peer Helpers in their school.
  113. And what's worse, not all schools
    provide enough teachers or teachers' aids
  114. to students in the special ed department.
  115. So get ready for this part.
  116. Many students in the Special Ed department
  117. don't receive the adequate services
    they deserve.
  118. And of the schools who don't provide
    the adequate services to these students,
  119. I believe the most common reason
  120. is because they don't have
    enough funding or staff,
  121. but if they're not up to standard,
    it's the students who suffer.
  122. Think of all the kids
    with learning disabilities
  123. and how they need help
    to thrive in their learning.
  124. Without it, jobs may not
    be available to them,
  125. or they may not learn social skills
  126. needed to live in the environment
    we live in today,
  127. their autonomy won't develop
  128. and these rich relationships
    will not be formed.
  129. All of these concepts rotate
    around each other,
  130. and are things that I work with
    Henley to improve on.
  131. I can tell that Henley
    has greatly improved
  132. with communicating with
    people throughout the years,
  133. and this is because he's fortunate enough
    to live in a community
  134. that has a very respectable
    Special Education program
  135. with many staff members
    and a thriving Peer Helper program.
  136. But, like I said before, not all schools,
    a majority in fact,
  137. adequately support the Special
    Education department,
  138. which is making it harder for these kids
  139. to become the most successful version
    of themselves.
  140. But now, let's say schools
    do start providing
  141. the help they should
    be giving to these kids.
  142. Let's say that these students thrive.
  143. I mean think of the possibilites.
  144. They'd be prepared for the work force,
  145. and they'd learn stronger social skills.
  146. If the schools are not providing
    enough teachers or teachers' aids
  147. to students in the Special Ed department,
  148. I say that job is passed to us,
    the students.
  149. I say the students should step up
    and support their fellow classmates.
  150. Every student in here
    has the ability to help.
  151. The hardest part is acting on the problem,
    but I know everyone can do it.
  152. One of the best and most effective ways
    you can help Special Education departments
  153. is by creating or joining
    a Peer Helper program.
  154. Once you join of these programs,
    you'll feel like a different person
  155. because you realize how much of
    an impact you have on other individuals.
  156. Because helping others impacts you.
  157. It turns you into
    a "glass half full" person
  158. and essentially, build stronger
    friendships with those who need it.
  159. So aside from lunch, being a Peer Helper
    is the best part of school by a landslide.
  160. For those of you who enjoy learning,
    just wait until you become a Peer Helper.
  161. Every Tuesday and some Thursdays,
    I help,
  162. and when I get to school, I am so excited.
  163. I'm excited for the time of day
    I can walk into that room
  164. and say hello to all my friends
    who I enjoy helping.
  165. Becoming a Peer Helper should
    be considered a privilege
  166. because not only are you positively
    impacting your fellow peers,
  167. they also help you,
  168. and you'll build
    long-standing relationships
  169. from this as well.
  170. It is hard work sometimes, and you're
    definitely not going to get a trophy
  171. saying you're a good Peer Helper.
  172. But really who needs a trophy
    when you're gaining a friend?
  173. That's the best reward.
  174. Being a Peer Helper helped me
    realize who I am as a person
  175. and my purpose in not just my life,
    but other's lives too.
  176. So I challenge my fellow students
    in the audience
  177. to strongly consider becoming
    a Peer Helper.
  178. You will love it.
  179. And if you don't have one, talk with
    your principal or Board of Education
  180. and make one because these
    students really need it.
  181. And to you parents listening out there,
  182. encourage your son or daughter
    to participate in Peer Helper programs
  183. because all it takes is eight words to
    change your life and the lives of others,
  184. "I would like to become a peer helper."