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Great Post. My daughter has down syndrome and although we don't know how she'll do in school, I pray daily that she will have teachers and administrators that are as caring as you are. As a future administrator, I pray that I will be able to give _everyone_ an opportunity to be a part of the school, and not just a warm body.

Gary Gerst

What an awesome blog to read on Christmas Eve. My sister is 23 and is mentally retarded and has autistic tendencies. I watched how much she was included in the elementary classes and in the middle school. In fact, I was lucky enough to teach in the middle school while she was there and eat lunch with her everyday!

We all know the terms of inclusion and mainstreaming. She was more part of the mainstreaming side of the special education spectrum in our district. Yet, this fit her needs because she had to practice walking, walking up stairs and going to the bathroom. She had an extended lunch to help her feed herself. From the time she was in first grade she had a class that she was part of. When I walked her downtown in her stroller that was more like a wheelchair (she cannot walk long distances), her classmates would always come up and say "Hi Christine!" They did not stare, but the kids’ parents did. Christine cannot talk, but I would always make sure she smiled by noises I made.

At first I was disappointed with the parents because they did stare, but then I figured out why that was. Those parents were never exposed to special needs children when they grew up. The kids in our school saw these children as part of their school community...talk about understanding differences in children and the compassion our students have learned.

The one thing that I was disappointed about was that this changed in High School. It was harder for Christine to sit in on classes because they were mainly lectures and we knew she was not learning from them. There are more high stakes classes and testing for students in the high school. I felt that she lost that sense of community that she had in Elementary and Middle School. Do not get me wrong the teachers and administrators were wonderful to Christine.

My point is the fact that you are taking time to talk with the students who have special needs and who aren't in the mainstream of the school at all times is wondeful. Believe me you are making a difference in their life. Being a new administrator (Curriculum Coordinator), I know how overwhelming it can be at times, but I hope you can continue the relationship you have started and try to add to it over time. Look to getting those students involved more, possibly special friends etc.

Maybe you'll be able to do something that I was able to do. My sister graduated from High School when she was 21. She had her cap and gown on and went through the ceremony just like the other students did. The only difference was she had me helping her walk. I can say one of the highlights of my life was holding her hand and walking her up to get her degree and hear her name. In the crowd there was an extra cheer from the students.... what a moment! Thank you for you post Joe, we can only help all leaders make it a point to give extra attention to our special needs students.

Reggie Engebritson

Joe! As I sit at my computer on this Christmas Eve morning, enjoying the quiet of day before I begin making the traditional meal,I read your post and just had to thank you for taking the time to write.

As a Special Ed Director of a cooperative which includes 10 school districts and many administrators, I thank you for taking the time to make a difference in the lives of these young people. You are living the message that I try to deliver and model.

As a leader in your school, you are modeling for your staff and the rest of the student body the essence of what we in education should be doing every day - building relationships and hooking kids into learning, however they learn best, given their differing abilities.

Thank you for all you do.

Mike Parent

Joe, as a fellow high school AP, I can tell you that the grass is not greener for those who have those inane duties and mindless monkey business responsibilities.

I, too, am able to get my hands dirty with curriculum, programming, and students activities. But I would trade it all to be able to do what you can. In fact, my professional guilty pleasure is to be a principal of a special needs school or to be a Director of Special Services.

Keep on keepin on. I am happy to be in the blogosphere with you and in the trenches if high school warfare.

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