Alex Saves the World

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Alex Fitzgerald is a 10th grade student at Glenelg High School with multiple disabilities.  Alex loves several things and two of these are Art and the environment.

Alex has minimal use of his hands, so he uses his nose to create art on his iPAD!

with iPad 3 with iPad with ipad 2

Through the GEO club at Glenelg High, Alex creates posters and pictures to promote recycling and healthy behaviors for the environment.

Enjoy these Samples of Alex’s Collection of Art on the Environment:

“The Bay”

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“Crabs”

 

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“Earth”

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“The Garden”

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Here is the description of his work as displayed in the lobby of Glenelg High School: “Alex Fitzgerald is an aspiring artist who wants to promote awareness about saving the environment. Using his iPad, he draws pictures with his nose that highlights certain environmental issues, including recycling and saving the Chesapeake Bay. Also, he recycles with the GEO (Glenelg Earth Organization) once a week. He encourages all of Glenelg High School to be more conscientious about recycling and limiting our carbon footprint.”

The Lobby Display of Alex’s work:

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The clear inclusive message this sends to all who enter Glenelg High School: “We are proud of the success of this young man with the drive to express his desires through art to improve the world”

We at Inclusive Happenings certainly agree!

You can also check out Alex’s full video interview about recycling on Glenelg High Library’s Youtube Channel or go to

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2BJA-oHlE8

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To: Howard County Maryland Parents & Family Members of Students Who Use Communication Devices

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The Howard County Public School System Instructional Access Team is providing four training sessions for parents & families about encouraging communication device use in the home & community settings.  Please see the above flyer for more details about these sessions. We would appreciate your passing along this information to  parents and families who may benefit. Thank you.

Communication Presentations for Parents10.18.13

Inclusive Habits

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We hope the first week back to school was exciting, invigorating, and productive! As busy as the first few days always are, they are also a critical time to develop habits and routines that will drive the rest of the school year.

Merriam-Webster defines a habit as “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.” The first week of school is typically spent teaching students about school routines such as how to line up, when to go to their locker, and how to manage classroom materials. These are important skills to practice in the beginning because we want students to be successful with these kinds of procedures for the rest of the year. We want them to have good habits when it comes to being a student, and we are proud of them when we watch these behaviors become seemingly involuntary by the end of the year (or hopefully sooner)!

When we think about authentic inclusion in a school and community, don’t we envision inclusive behaviors that have become involuntary? Now is the perfect time of year to practice the routines that foster inclusion in your classroom and school, so that including all students becomes a habit.

Perhaps you are practicing flexible grouping strategies or making a commitment to using natural peer supports to cultivate inclusive habits in your building. What are some inclusive habits you are trying to develop within yourself and your students this year?

Questioning Inclusion Part 4 – Purposeful Inclusion

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Well hello there!  I know it’s later in the month and that you’ve been waiting for the latest Questioning Inclusion installment!  This month we’re going to discuss “Purposeful Inclusion”, are you ready? 

 

Hold on a minute, just have to climb up on my soapbox…okay, I’m ready now.   

 

So, how’s it going out there in your schools?  What is the inclusion looking like?  Have you been questioning and examining your practices?  We often have people say to us that inclusion is somewhat different than it was years ago – and they are right.  Let’s take a little trip down memory lane, shall we? 

 

In the 1970s when the law was new, we were just working to get students with disabilities in schools with peers.  Now fast forward to the 1980s (You are thinking neon, fingerless gloves and Jams, right?  Well, maybe that’s just me…) – we’d moved along, students were in the schools and now we were working to get students in the general education classroom.   The overall thinking, particularly for students with more needs, was that instruction happened in a self-contained class, and they would go to the general education classroom when they could. 

 

Now, getting in our DeLorean (or phone booth, depending on which teen-based time travel movie you prefer), we shift to the 1990s where we had yet again, moved along– students with more significant needs were in the general education classroom some of the time.  The focus was often on social relationships – students were in the classes, but not always working with other students, often times just beside them.  And when they were working with them there wasn’t as much an academic focus, but one based on social skills and language. 

 

In the early 2000s we worked to make a shift in our thinking – yes, students continued to work on those social relationships, but how about some engagement in the curriculum?  How about some higher academic standards?  Our focus became more about how and what they were learning along with the social skills.  Oh, and the government thought so too – the law had some language adjustments that also said students needed to be not just in the general education classroom, but making progress in the general education curriculum. 

 

And now, here we are in 2013.  Do you ever wonder what will typify a decade?  Hashtags?  Words that begin with a lowercase i?  We have worked to upgrade our rigor but at the same time have students with more significant needs be in meaningful inclusive situations.  We want them to be working on skills that are important to them but at the same time place them within the same curriculum that others are working.  We still have people ask “Well, where is the special education curriculum?”  It’s right there on the HCPSS website – the same Common Core standards that everyone is working towards.  Yes, adjusted for the individual if they are taking the alternative state assessment, but that is where things can be specialized and made directly purposeful.  An inclusive experience can be created that really works– think about how each instructional time during a student’s day can directly relate to what they need.   Not just in because the time frame works with the schedule, but meaningful, with actual outcomes that tie to curriculum.  Opportunities for direct involvement in the curriculum that engages a student in a purposeful way. 

 

And believe me, there are opportunities!  Have a student who just loves how machines work and move?  They will excel in the 1st grade Forces and Motions unit, in middle school Tech Ed or high school Foundations of Technology.   Really enjoy music?  It can be a class you take every year in school the entire way through, along with other options like chorus and band.  How about a student who has a need to learn what we used to call “life skills”?  Economics are a part of the curriculum along the way in Social Studies starting with Kindergarten, or as money in the math curriculum.  Reading is a part of every class all day long.  Technology is used throughout the day, particularly once students enter middle and high school – and if you don’t think that’s now a life skill think a bit about how many times during the day you touch technology, and what your life would be without it. 

 

But with all the rigor and curriculum talk, I don’t want to lose sight of how important that the social relationships and skills are as well.  I’m pretty sure the only thing that gets my high schooler out the door at 6:45AM is her friends – not World History.   It is what makes the school experience (more) fun – and purposeful.  Skills that all students learn when working together in the classroom are important and life-long – learning to work with all different types of people is something that they will use every day as an adult, regardless of job or where they live.   And not that I don’t think World History is important, but the truth is that I often have to Google when exactly that person was that country’s leader, or when was that conflict (okay, not often, but I can – see technology life skills, above) – but working with others I do every day, all day long. 

 

Okay, I know too long-winded.  Maybe you’re still reading, or maybe you gave a big sigh like some of my schools do when the see me coming and know what I’m going to say (because I know that you all do that…).  So I’m going to climb down off the soapbox now and ask the questions:

 

  • What does your inclusion look like?
  • What does your individual student(s) need?  What would make inclusion purposeful for them?  What do they need to get from their experience?
  • Does it look like that?  Why or why not?
  • Think about each part of the day – can you say why a student is included?  What are they gaining from it?  
  • Would every adult that works with that student tell me that?  Why or why not?
  • What would it take to make your student’s inclusive experience even more purposeful?
  • What is one step that you can take next week?  How about tomorrow?

 

Inclusive Happenings That Have Given Me Goosebumps Lately

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Students at Waverly Elementary presenting their biography reports dressed as their character in front of their entire class!  Thanks to their teacher for thinking outside the box and all the staff who supported them!

 

A student at Pointers Run Elementary successfully included in a grade-level reading group while working at his individual level.  Thanks to those teachers who took a risk that has paid off tenfold!!

 

Students in a classroom at Waterloo Elementary who work on differentiated projects every day within their Language Arts block.  Hats off to their teachers for their creativity and dedication to student progress!

 

Staff at Gorman Crossing Elementary presenting information on their students and program at a staff meeting – which in turn increased the number of daily interactions for their students!  Staff have even stopped by the classroom just to say hi!  Way to go Gorman Crossing!

 

Staff at Bollman Bridge Elementary team recently examined all schedules, made adjustments, and took bold steps in order to meet student needs.  Kudos to the team for creating possibilities! 

Autism Awareness – A Parent’s View

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April is National Autism Awareness Month, which naturally begs the question: awareness of what?

As a parent of a 19-year old son with autism, if you had asked me that question years ago, I would have said things like: be aware that kids with autism can be experience sensory overload; or be aware that creating teaching opportunities around an autistic child’s interests can help him learn. Or if I was meeting one of my son’s teachers: be aware that if you leave that scented candle on your desk, it’s going to have a perfect bite taken out of it within two minutes.

A few years ago, I asked Jamie Burke, a young man with autism, what he wanted people to understand. He replied in four words. “Autism is not disability.”

That idea – autism is not disability – seems warm and fuzzy enough to put on a bumper sticker. The question is whether we are willing to believe it.

Even the definition of autism is loaded with words like “deficit,” “disorder,” “impaired,” and “restricted.” Can we really believe that autism is not disability? Can we offer people with autism the presumption that they are more intelligent than they might be able to demonstrate? Can we recognize that social interaction may be overwhelming, even if they desperately want friends?

The answer matters. Because the answer will define the quality of life, the opportunities, and the dignity of the people we know with autism – including our own children.

When Jamie says “autism is not disability,” he’s saying that autism does not diminish a person as a human being. Autism awareness can’t stop with a list of things that make people with autism different from us. Because what is essential is the constant awareness of what makes us the same.

The founders of our country did an amazing thing. They based our nation’s entire foundation on a presumption – what they called a “proposition” – that all of us are created equal. When we look back on our history, the only points of true regret are those times when we forgot – that all of us, regardless of our differences, and simply by virtue of our shared humanity, are created equal. That word “all” includes people with autism.

None of this is to minimize the challenges that a person with autism faces. Autism can affect every sense; sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and even a few senses that we parents never heard of before an autism diagnosis, like “proprioception” and “vestibular equilibrium.”

Still, I’d like to suggest that autism is not a disorder of thinking or a lack of intelligence; that even people who look “severely autistic” to the eye are thinking, feeling, people. Their senses may be overwhelmed, their bodies may be disorganized or uncooperative, but their minds are far more competent than we previously thought. As we discover more people with autism who eventually develop speech or other ways to communicate, we hear the same thing again and again: “I’m smart. Tell people.”

As one of the largest private funders of autism research in the country, I’ll tell you a secret. Science has not developed the ability to read the minds of people with autism, or to measure the empathy in their hearts. When we give a person with autism a test that relies on their ability to speak or move accurately, we may just be testing their ability to overcome features of autism that have little to do with intelligence.

So our responsibility is to presume that people with autism are competent, and then go about looking for ways to help them demonstrate it. If you’re a parent, tell your child what’s going on in the family, in the world – all the interesting things that you would share with another child. Hold up your end of the conversation even if they don’t hold up theirs. Create teaching opportunities out of their own interests. Give them the dignity to be embraced as ordinary, more often than they are excluded as special. Teach them and read to them even without needing a test at the end. Assume that they listen; that they appreciate; that they love, while we keep looking for ways for their mouths or their hands to tell us.

And then love them back. Not for who they might have been without autism, or for who they might be if they were “cured,” but as people who need to be nothing other than who they are, to be loved and accepted.

Because when we do that, we open the door for them to share a meaningful life with us, without having to take an admission test. We start seeing the gifts of people with autism, not the limitations. We start to think less in terms of disability and more in terms of humanity. And not least, we sometimes find that the things we like most about ourselves – are there because a person with autism is also there.

~ John P. Hussman, Ph.D.