The Wawascene was created by Dr. Mark Stock, former Superintendent of the Wawasee Community School Corporation. Due to its local popularity, Dr. Stock has left the blog site to future Wawasee administrators.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

The day I became convinced that special needs students aren't the only ones benefiting from being included.

The Setting

It was the fall of 1984. I had just moved to Indiana from Ohio to take a 6th grade teaching position. One of the differences I noticed at Washington Elementary in Warsaw, was the number of special needs students in the school due to the centralized special education cooperative. There were students from Whitko, Wawasee, and Tippecanoe Valley all attending our school. The school I came from in Ohio did not have any special needs students with the exception of Learning Disabled (LD) students.

The Story

The sun was shining brightly, reflecting off the dark asphalt of the outdoor basketball courts outside Washington Elementary. Several hundred students stood silently in straight lines, hands at their sides, squinting into the sun and watching their teachers for a silent signal to re-enter the school after a fire drill practice.

Suddenly a strange noise came from the playground. The students silently turned to look. A little handicapped boy with Down's Syndrome came skipping and prancing off the playground, dancing and singing loudly to a tune only he could hear. A fire drill wasn't going to interfere with his day!

I immediately whipped around and gave everyone the "evil teacher eye." You know, that stern piercing look that all teachers learn fast or they don't survive long. I expected rude laughter and some version of poking fun at him. Young teenagers can be cruel and unmerciful at times when it comes to picking on others and I expected this to be ugly.

The incident I witnessed following this exchange, has forever convinced me that general education students learn a lot from going to school with students with diverse needs.

My class watched the little boy with understanding expressions and quiet, patient smiles. Several whispered his name, "Hi Jon!" Others covertly snuck their hands out and gave him a quiet "high five" as he danced by. No snide remarks. No secret whispers. No knowing grins.

I glanced at every student and studied their expressions carefully. I could see only signs of friendliness. I studied them carefully again, this time looking for pity in their eyes. Still - only friendliness.

It was awhile later before I truly understood how this could be. You see, Washington Elementary 6th grade students were friends with Jon. They routinely gave up their recesses and went to the special needs classrooms to help tutor and befriend the students. They didn't poke fun at Jon because they knew him. They didn't pity him because they knew he could do a lot of things. They were Jon's friends.

While there are certainly challenges when we include special needs students in regular education, let's not forget that special education students aren't the only ones who benefit.


Anonymous said...

Thank You so much for sharing that. You brought tears to my eyes.:) I know most people that go to and work at my son's school know him. Of course how can you not with as much as he talks now that he can.LOL!!

Anonymous said...

Thank You so much for sharing that. You brought tears to my eyes.:) I know most people that go to and work at my son's school know him. Of course how can you not with as much as he talks now that he can.LOL!!

Stephen Cavender said...

It's sad to think that most of the kids in our school would've made fun of that boy, even though he is just one of us. Most kids don't stop to think about that, and it's not right. I'm a student at Wawasee Highschool, in case you wondered.

Anonymous said...

I teach at a school in Indiana and thank goodness I have several students with special needs in my room. Not a day goes by when my students don't amaze me...they are learning so very much by being in the same room with these students who need extra help. They are learning to be tolerant, that not everyone is the same, and most importantly, that SAME IS NOT FAIR. They know that some kids need stickers to learn, some kids need counters to learn, some kids need a space to calm down, etc. If they continue in these types of situations, they will be the most easygoing employees, neighbors, and citizens anyone has ever seen. I am so thankful for them and their parents.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Stock, totally off this subject, but could you open a session on ways to fix the drop off/pick up at NWES? Sooner or later there is bound to be a student hurt or a minor wreck. I pulled in to drop off students the other day and it was quite congested, stopped at one point I looked out my window only to see the big yellow bus right at my drivers side door...a bit scary especially with slick roads. The bus had decided to come IN the OUT, what if we would have hit? I never in a million years would have thought the driver would have done that!

Anonymous said...

This is a nice, touching story. It really begs the question: Is school's primary function social engineering or is it educating all students to their highest academic ability?

I don't offer a response -- and the question should not suggest my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous commentator about their question (Is school's primary function social engineering or is it educating all students to their highest academic ability?): By reading literature analyzing the foundations of education in America you'll learn that the primary function of education is to socialize people to be citizens of our country.

Anonymous said...

About the school's primary function, I would say it is both. Special needs kids need to learn how to socialize and function in a normal classroom setting before they can learn there, IMO. At the same time, the school does have IEPs(I=Individualed) to fit each student's Individual need. So, the school's goal is both and to help the students become the most productive people they can be.

Anonymous said...

If the last two comments are correct, then schools are failing...both because of academics and the attitudes and relationships exhibited by students.