Maybe Eleanor would have loved to join the book club? I think about the many, many times that Eleanor has had similar things happen to her. It must shut down her self-esteem and hope, and crash her dreams of what she might want to do later in life—crashing her hope of maybe succeeding to be a doctor or lawyer or teacher or cook or whatever she wants to be…crashing the opportunity to fly her own way and complete what she would like to complete in her life.
By Harriet, age 11
My name is Harriet and this year I am going into middle school in a new town. For most of my school life in my old town, I was paying close attention to my classmate, Eleanor. She is labeled with a disability and, to me, the way that most people treat her is not right. I have noticed the teachers, other kids, her aides, the principal, and even the teacher who is supposed to be in charge of inclusive education treat her like she is different from the rest of the students our age. It’s hard for me to understand why.
The aides act almost as if they are terrified of her and because they act this way, most of the other kids do, too. A lot of the students who are the same age as Eleanor act as though they are older than she is and that she still wants books like Frog and Toad read to her, as if she is a child. I honestly don’t think she is still in that stage of life. In so many ways, I see her act just as any other student would act. She says, “No MATH!” like we all say (at least in our minds), and yet, when she does a math problem that is “well done,” she is given a piece of a chocolate chip cookie. When my math is “well done,” I get a grade, not a piece of a cookie. She is treated and represented and misinterpreted as though she can’t learn like any other 5th grader. I think she can, but she is never given the chance.
Eleanor’s aide is by her side every second, including recess and lunch. She is like a box around her. This box makes it seem as though Eleanor can’t engage in the world and gives the message to all the kids in her class to leave her alone because she is different. Everyone is different.
This box is a big barrier to her having real friends and her being a real friend. It is a barrier to her engaging with her classmates. It is a barrier to having someone to count on if she’s having a hard day. I can’t imagine what it must feel like not to have friends to count on if I am having a bad day. Wherever you are in the world, everyone should feel comfort and belonging knowing that you always have people to hold on to you as you fly your way and they fly theirs. Eleanor isn’t given the opportunity to know that she belongs and to feel the freedom to fly.
I remember a day when a notice was delivered to all of our mailboxes inviting us to join a book club. The notice was put in Eleanor’s mailbox and when the reading teacher was checking to make sure that everyone received one, she took the notice out of Eleanor’s box. The reading teacher wasn’t going to give the notice to another kid; she just threw it away and walked out the door. As a child, I see this situation as very messed up. Eleanor isn’t even counted enough as a person/student in my class to be included in the “everyone” category. Maybe Eleanor would have loved to join the book club? I think about the many, many times that Eleanor has had similar things happen to her. It must shut down her self-esteem and hope, and crash her dreams of what she might want to do later in life—crashing her hope of maybe succeeding to be a doctor or lawyer or teacher or cook or whatever she wants to be…crashing the opportunity to fly her own way and complete what she would like to complete in her life.
This is just one story of one girl in the world who is in my school, but I know that stuff like this is happening everywhere. From my perspective, inclusion is not just that everyone is in the classroom and treated the same. Inclusion is everyone working together doing the same things; everyone is included in every activity at all times. No one person is treated special, such as being pulled out to bake cookies or bribed with a cookie to do the problem right. If there has to be an aide to help a student, he wouldn’t be there for any one person; the aide would help everyone. If any kid was having a hard time, the aide would check-in.
My dream is to work on the challenge of helping kids belong and help change the thinking about how all kids are included in our schools. I tried to talk to my school principal, but I am not sure she really listened. It is hard sometimes as a kid to know how to change things like this, but I know we can do it. To anyone reading this who has this same dream: hopefully one day we will all see the change that we are working together to make happen.
Editor’s note: This is a reprint of an article on Swifttalk (SwiftSchools) – which is a site dedicated to effective inclusion. I was so impressed with Harriet’s essay I asked her if I could share it with The Art of Autism. Harriet is an eleven year old girl who is beginning middle school. She loves to read. Three of her favorite books are: Sand Dollar Summer, Counting by Seven’s, and Walk Two Moons. She has a big family and a dog named Daisy. Harriet loves nordic skiing, cooking with her sisters, and she hopes to be a lawyer someday so that she can help difficult situations be more fair.
Chairman: Bill Stramm (56)
2018 Middle School Essay Contest
“I LIKE LIVING IN AMERICA BECAUSE”
- Open to all accredited Middle School Students at participating schools, Public, Private, or Parochial within the sponsoring jurisdiction of established American Legion Posts in the Department of Virginia. Home schooled children are eligible to compete provided the Division Superintendent, his/her assistant or other designated person of the public school system certify on the attached Declaration Form, the students grade level and their adherences to contest rules. It shall be the responsibility of the home schooler’s parents to contact the sponsoring American Legion Post and have the above certifications completed.
- Each essay MUST start out with the phrase: “I like living in America because…”
- Each essay is to be hand written on the front side of one 8 1/2” X 11” page of lined notebook paper. Typed or computer generated essays Will Not be considered.
- The essay is to be written by the competing Middle School Student at their desk in school (during structured class time if home schooled), not at home.
- Middle School – The competing schools Language Arts/English/Civics department will judge each entry on originality, sincerity and the student’s ability to convey thought. The Language Arts/English/Civics department may add such additional criteria as composition, spelling, and proper punctuation. ONLY ONE essay should be forwarded to the sponsoring Post!
- Post Level – The winning essay from each Middle School will be mailed to the sponsoring American Legion Post contest Chairman (his/her name and address appear on the attached Declaration Form). It is suggested that each Post’s Executive Board/Committee or contest Chairman, with a committee of at least three judges, select the best essay. ONLY ONE essay should be forwarded to the District.
- District Level – It is suggested that each District will convene a panel of at least three judges, chaired by their District’s Americanism or Essay Contest Chairman to select the best essay. ONLY ONE essay should be submitted per District.
- Department Level – the Department Americanism Chairman will convene a panel of judges consisting of members of the Americanism Committee and/or other professionals, who will make the final selections.
- Time Line:
- Middle School/Home School – Each participating Middle School/Home School should mail their winning essay and declaration form to the Post Level Chairman whose name appears on the form no later than the last day of the Middle Schools classes prior to Christmas vacation.
- Posts – Each participating Post will judge and mail their winning essay to the District Americanism Chairman or Middle School Essay Contest Chairman to arrive prior to their District’s Spring Conference.
- Districts – Each participating District will mail their winning essay with attached Declaration Form to: Americanism Committee Chairman, Bill Stramm, 302 Arnies Loop Cape Charles, Virginia 23310, to arrive no later than March 1, 2018. Winners will be announced at the Department Spring Conference.
- Post Level:
- Each Middle School Language Arts/English/Civics Department which sends a winning essay to you receives an American Legion “Certificate of Participation” signed by the Post Commander and the Post’s Essay Chairman.
- Each winning essay student at the Post Level is presented with an American Legion “Certificate of Appreciation” signed by the Post Commander and the Post’s Essay Chairman.
- The winning essay student’s teacher receives a check from your post in the amount of $25.00 to be used to assist in his/her purchase of classroom materials.
- District Level:
- The winning essay student from your District receives an American Legion “Certificate of Appreciation” signed by your District Commander and District Americanism Chairman or Essay Contest Chairman.
- The winning essay student receives a $50.00 check.
- The winning essay student’s Language Arts/English/Civics teacher receives a $50.00 check to go toward assisting in purchasing supplies and materials for their school’s department.
- Department Level:
- The First Place Winner will receive a $250.00 check.
- The Second Place Winner will receive a $100.00 check.
- The Third Place Winner will receive a $50.00 check.
- $50.00 check to winning essay student’s teacher
- Post Level: