Growing Through Inclusion: Grades K-12 by Toby Greenes
From OCCMHA Newsletter, page 3: https://docs.google.com/viewer?srcid=0ByAKki-yTVaPQlVzTFVGY0h3RGs&pid=explorer&a=v
In two weeks my daughter, Bracha, a senior in high school, will take part in her school’s annual theatre production. She is currently nineteen years-old and also has Down syndrome.
Bracha has been included in Yeshivas Darchei Torah, a private Hebrew Day School, from kindergarten through high school for at least part of the day. Some years it was a couple of hours, some years a half day, and some years all day. Inclusion is a process whereby students with disabilities join their peers who do not have disabilities in a general education classroom. This may be done with or without the help of a parapro or assistant. Bracha has always had an assistant provided by JARC’s inclusion program.
As Orthodox Jews it was important to us from day one that Bracha be able to be a part of the community and attend the same school as our other children. And while there is no question that we are thrilled that this dream became a reality, over the years we have come to realize that inclusion is wonderful, but it is not perfect. Bracha is an integral part of her class, her school, and the whole community. Her classmates drop in on weekends to hang out and she is an important part of all extra-curricular activities. These range from a Friday night dinner for the whole high school, to spring outings such as canoeing, or to a high school weekend retreat in South Haven.
Not only does Bracha participate, she is a committee member for at least one major activity. She might be responsible to set tables, serve, or clean-up. Whatever the job, she’s part of the gang.
The students, her peers, what can I say: They love her! Bracha’s classmates are her best teachers, disciplinarians, and cheerleaders. They know when to set limits and when to ignore behaviors. They are always looking to bring out the best in her.
Interestingly, now that Bracha is nearing graduation, it seems that, in a way, we are victims of our own success. Bracha considers herself so much a part of her class. But in reality, her future and the future of her classmates may be very different. Family life plays a major role in our Jewish culture, Bracha is having a difficult time accepting that she may not marry or have children.
So, our job is far from over. All in all, however, we are extremely grateful that Bracha has had the opportunity to learn and grow amongst her peers who do not have disabilities.