Earlier this week our boy was asked to help lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the opening of a School Committee meeting. He’s done this once before; this time the was filling for another boy, who could not make it at the last minute. I asked what happened to his friend, and to my surprise my son answered, “I think he is too shy.” Here he was, someone who struggles with his own anxiety every day, recognizing it in someone else and willingly stepping in to help. Add to this his cheerful acquiescence to the immediate nature of the request – we had to just hop in the car and go – and the evening was already extraordinary in that it was so very ordinary. He sat quietly in the back of the school library as people filed in and I chatted with the Superintendent. He greeted former teachers and administrators who made their way over to see him. He was a little distracted, and little awkward, but composed and charming in his way. He was prepared. He and his classmate beamed as the Superintendent introduced them; his hand fluttered ever so slightly as it made its way up to his heart and they led the Pledge. School Committee meetings are televised; he looked straight into the camera, fully cognizant of the moment. Everything went perfectly.
And then a member of the Committee rose from his seat and strode over to shake each boy’s hand, warmly and sincerely. I was struck by the authenticity of this gesture and how it underscores my hope for us as a community. Recently I have been agonizing about how inclusion for behaviorally challenged kids can really work in a high school setting. At this age it is much harder to accommodate the differences in learning and socialization; there is so much to prepare for in life that successful behavior in the classroom setting just doesn’t seem like an important goal anymore. Having spent all of these years trying to make kids successful in the school setting, now our attention necessarily turns to life outside of the school building and in the larger community. So many people are worried about how their college graduates will get jobs; in this economy the odds are doubly stacked against those for whom an advanced degree is not in the offing. But these small moments – a public appearance, greeting teachers and friends, a handshake from a leader – they change everyone’s lives. I’m glad that, against the odds, we have stayed in public schools and that we have taken on what is sure to be a battle for the resources that will allow our boy the training and education he needs to be successful outside of the classroom. I have always believed that everyone can benefit from what we teach our children with disabilities because it gives them a chance to teach us in return. Inclusion comes in many forms, not just in the school but in the community, and it means we not only have them in attendance but we recognize that they are there and that what they have to teach is worth knowing. I was starting to think that it was just talk, that our efforts will result in little more than the minimum required. And then someone got up and shook his hand and I realized how much more is within our reach.