Exposure to individuals with special needs promotes inclusion

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Exposure to individuals with special needs promotes inclusion

Molly's   mission:   Smiling with a camper, senior Molly Stryker (right) poses for a photo after a hike. Stryker spent a week at Adam’s Camp over the summer.

Molly's mission: Smiling with a camper, senior Molly Stryker (right) poses for a photo after a hike. Stryker spent a week at Adam’s Camp over the summer.

Photo courtesy of Molly Stryker

Molly's mission: Smiling with a camper, senior Molly Stryker (right) poses for a photo after a hike. Stryker spent a week at Adam’s Camp over the summer.

Photo courtesy of Molly Stryker

Photo courtesy of Molly Stryker

Molly's mission: Smiling with a camper, senior Molly Stryker (right) poses for a photo after a hike. Stryker spent a week at Adam’s Camp over the summer.

Molly Stryker and Lauren Bianco

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Imagine a perfect week at summer camp. You are with all your friends, the sun is hot, and you can unplug for a week. You fill your days canoeing, hiking, and ziplining surrounded by mountain painted skies. These adventures are often the most positive memories from childhood. I had the opportunity to experience these moments and more at Adam’s Camp Colorado.

Adam’s Camp is a summer adventure camp for individuals with special needs and their families. As a volunteer counselor, I provided around-the-clock care for five days and four nights, while aiming towards the goal of “realizing potentials and developing strengths” of our campers. I worked with 15 campers aged 18-30 as they took part in typical camp activities.

Prior to meeting my campers in person, my fellow volunteers and counselors sat down for a meeting where we read the profiles on each camper. We learned what upsets our campers, what calms them down, their age, how many years they’ve been to camp, and more. Surprisingly though, we were not told their official diagnoses.

Realizing I lacked experience, for the week ahead, I scrambled to find my composure. However, as my campers slowly trickled in, I quickly came to understand what little meaning a diagnosis really has.

I began to see through the mere title of a diagnosis and what I found was genuine compassion, kindness, and ambition. In fact, one of my favorite moments at camp came from a camper I worked closely with. She was verbal, but also proficient in sign language. She taught me the most important phrase I know in sign language: “you’ve got a friend in me.” Any time I saw her feeling homesick or upset I signed this and it never failed to put a smile on her face (and mine).

After saying some of the most heartbreaking goodbyes at the end of the week, all the stories and eye-opening moments came to the forefront of my mind. I came to realize that the only true difference between my camper’s capabilities and my own was the visibility of their challenges. Their unpraised bravery became more apparent to me as I realized they must wear their vulnerabilities on their skin for everyone to see.

Yet, I found myself frustrated as it was time to return to the “real world.” A world where at first glance, that compassion and warmth I love so much in my campers isn’t seen quite so easily by everyone else.

After this week, coming back to South really made me think about the community that we foster. I see it in the hallways: kids making fun of other kids. I hear it in the hallways: retarded. I rarely see it, yet I see it all too much. Words and actions sting. As a school, I do commend GBS for our inclusiveness and the spotlight we shine on diversity. However, I encourage all students not to be afraid of what makes someone different because you never know how profound the impact could be on yourself or others.

While my time at Adam’s Camp did come with many skipped meals, many sleep deprived hours, and a tremendous chance, it proved to be the most rewarding experience of my life. Next time you find yourself passing by the special education classrooms, keep in mind that just like you, they are Titans.

 

 

 

As the end of the first semester seems to be approaching rapidly, it is hard for me to believe that this is my final year at Glenbrook South. What’s even harder for me to believe however, is that while I will no longer be here, my younger brother, Sam, will be replacing me in these halls.

To many this doesn’t seem uncommon, a lot of siblings don’t attend high school at the same time. And while many siblings have each other’s backs from afar, I still worry about what my brother might endure next year.

Freshman year can definitely be a hard transition from middle school, and Sam may struggle more than others. Sam has Autism Spectrum Disorder, and although his disability should not define him, for some it does. While ASD differs for each person, the most difficult thing for Sam is to develop relationships with his fellow peers.

GBS does offer great programs to help build relationships between the students in the special education classes and the general education students such as Peer Mentoring and Circle of Friends, yet there still can be a disconnect amongst the special education and general education students. And while many students may be educated about people with disabilities, I see a lot of students struggle with knowing how to form these relationships.  

In many cases, I have witnessed groups of people laugh and mimic those with special needs. I also hear people throw around the word “retarded” as if it has absolutely no meaning. And maybe to them it doesn’t, however that doesn’t make it acceptable. I think that the student body needs to be educated on this topic through programs such as the Nora Project.

In the 2015-2016 school year, The Nora Project was founded by my brother’s 5th grade teacher, Amanda Martinsen. The project was founded to help share stories about children with disabilities and teach the other fifth-grade students the value of inclusion. Sam was the first Nora friend that was from Glen Grove, where the program was first implemented. According to the Nora Project website, the program has grown from six classrooms to eighty-five in the past two years.

For each student, the class does a documentary with them, asks the family questions, spends quality time with [Sam], and talk about their overall experience about learning to form relationships with people who really aren’t that different than they are. The most rewarding thing I witnessed was as Sam moved into middle school, I saw his peers take what they had learned from the project and really put in the effort to be friends with my brother.

High school is a place where you go through different friends, learn, grow and develop yourself as a person. Whether you have a ton of friends or just a close few, you might not always think about how hard it can be to make those connections. I want people to understand while it is harder for my brother to make these connections, it does not mean that he doesn’t want or need them. This idea that gets taught to fifth-graders, yet I believe this concept of accepting others and striving to be their friend is a lesson that can be taught to high schoolers.

Next time you see someone that’s a little different from you, go talk to them. Don’t be afraid. Build up relationships. You can be the person to make them feel like they aren’t going through high school alone.

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