The following is a book excerpt from Zachary Fenell’s memoir, Off Balanced. Off Balanced dives into the thoughts of a teenager with the neurological disability cerebral palsy. Just like how cerebral palsy can throw one off balance physically, the condition can create mental unsteadiness. Learn how less than stellar balance, muscle tightness, and other CP symptoms…
Considering how some teachers on the first school day go around the classroom allowing students to introduce themselves, I thought my first post as a Think Inclusive staff writer should introduce me. Shall we get acquainted through some common first day school questions?
What’s your name? I’m Zachary Fenell. However, you can just call me Zachary.
What grade are you in? Well, I’m in my fifth year freelance writing so I guess you could say I’m a fifth-year writer. If you read disability-related materials online, my name may seem familiar. Back in 2010 I published some disability-related articles for Disaboom. From there other writing opportunities within the disability niche emerged.
Like Tim mentioned in his post breaking the news about Think Inclusive’s expansion, I’m a regular presence at The Mobility Resource and Handicap This! I helped contribute to Special Education Guide. Plus, via the Yahoo! Contributor Network I received publication on Yahoo! Health.
Besides my freelance work, I’m a self-published author. My teen memoir Off Balanced (out on the Kindle and Nook) documents how growing up with the neurological disability cerebral palsy (CP) affected me socially throughout adolescence. Despite my CP’s mildness, I felt pretty burdened.
What do you already know about [insert subject]? Ask this question with “inclusion” as the inserted subject. So you want to know, what do I already know about inclusion? Learning in mainstream classrooms during my educational career I obtained much firsthand experience inside an inclusive environment.
Accommodations found on my IEP over the years included both pullout and in-class services. The pullout services largely came in elementary school, basically speech therapy and physical therapy. Thanks to my mother’s strong-minded nature I never missed the core subjects due to getting pulled out.
In-class services ranged from working a minimal time with the school’s occupational therapist and sitting up front to compensate for my vision issues to as I became older riding the elevator and receiving a set of textbooks to keep at home. These accommodations either aimed to preserve my physical safety and/or give me the chance to succeed academically.
Now obviously I realize inclusion extends beyond my individual case. Networking with those in the education field, reading article after article, and writing about the topic I understand the subject’s complexity. Generalizing especially appears risky. Creating effective educational strategies based around each individual student seems the best practice.
What do you hope to learn? Writing for Think Inclusive brings me an ideal opportunity to understand special education and inclusion from the educator’s perspective. Comprehending multiple perspectives really enhances one’s insights. While a student I failed to think about education from any other viewpoint than the student’s.
Penning Off Balanced left me seeking my parent’s standpoint. Documenting a fair account remained important to me. Rather than reflecting back and saying “I could’ve used the stairs at school. You were overprotective Mom and Dad,” I attempted to see their side. I desired to know, “Why did you want these accommodations for me? How did my negative emotional responses make you feel?”
Think Inclusive’s target audience puts me in a position to turn my attention to educators’ perspectives. Gearing my writing towards you good reader will leave me to think differently than before, making me a better, well-rounded resource on education.
Share a fun fact about yourself. Timing for today’s post proves wonderful because I’m currently running my first book giveaway contest. One Kindle or Nook owner could win Off Balanced for his or her device. Read instructions for entry at my website. The contest ends this Friday, December 20th at 5:00pm EST. Good luck!
I don’t know which side of the fence you are on in regard to inclusive education. And for all intents and purposes…it does not matter. This post could just as easily have been called, No…Really…I’m Not Crazy…Inclusive Education Works! Usually when I talk to people who are not familiar with the idea of having students with disabilities (including significant disabilities) in the general education setting they say they are having a hard time “wrapping their head around it” or want to see “what it actually looks like”. So…just for those of you who need to see it to believe it, I have picked out five videos that will most definitely change your mind about whether inclusive education is really a good thing or not (or at least they should).
Including Issac is a 13 minute video about a boy with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and his story of inclusion in a private Christian school in Michigan. It takes commitment from a school on all levels to make inclusion work for students with significant disabilities and this a clear example of how coming together for the benefit of one student can benefit all students. Watch this beautifully filmed and powerful video.
Damian’s Inclusion Project
This video was made by the Georgia Department of Education (2011) to highlight a pilot inclusion program for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities in cooperation with Cobb County Schools. I am currently working on a follow up video to show how Damian is progressing through his 4th grade year (slated Fall of 2014). He is currently included for all segments in general education.
Thasya Lumingkewas, 8, has autism and thrives at Maple Wood Elementary School in Somersworth, NH. The school has implemented Response to Intervention (RtI), Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). This film highlights the power of presuming competence, differentiated instruction and augmentative and alternative communication.
Tana Vogele’s Story
Every year since Kindergarten, Tana Vogele has been included in general education classrooms despite her significant physical and intellectual disabilities. Watch this compelling video about the friendships that have been nurtured during her 4th grade year and what inclusion does to a classroom and school community.
This short film (16:39) focuses on Axel Cortes and the staff at Idelhurst Elementary School in Somersworth, NH. Axel is a fifth grader with autism who is non-verbal and exhibited significant behavioral challenges when he arrived at school. Axel came to Idelhurst during his 5th grade year from another school where he was exclusively in self-contained settings and was being taught preschool/kindergarten level. Through effective implementation of supports – including AAC, UDL, RtI, social stories, visual schedules and positive behavioral supports – Axel was able to learn 5th grade general education curriculum in a general education classroom within a few months. His challenging behaviors also decreased, and he thrived through interaction and engagement with ‘typical’ peers. Once Axel had an effective means of communication, the staff found that Axel was was bilingual and bi-literate (his family speaks Spanish at home).
This film illustrates the potential for students with significant cognitive disabilities to achieve high academic outcomes. The film has received support from the National Center and State Collaborative (NCSC).
The video shows how Axel accesses his environment via Augmentative and Alternative Communication as well as how his classmates accept him into their community. Watch how Axel is learning to type independently and makes strides with communicating his wants and needs in the general education setting.
Sometimes we need to see examples of inclusion to really understand that it is possible and happening all over the world. Perhaps you are the one who can influence your local school to implement inclusive practices.
By AZ Chapman
This post was originally published at AZ is Amazing. AZ is one of the many young self-advocates that are taking to new media to highlight the benefits of inclusion. I am honored to share her story with you.
So I have been hearing multiple times about the fight parents need to have to give their child an inclusive education. Every time I hear about this my heart breaks because I know what the benefits are to being include and I feel so powerless because I can not anything to fix the system but hopefully it will be different in three years since I am becoming a special education teacher for now this is all. I do I hope everyone enjoys the video. Feel Free to share just leave a comment first.
AZ Chapman is a young woman that has Cerebral Palsy, Nonverbal Learning Disorder and Anxiety. AZ hopes to be a special education teacher. She has been previously featured on the blog here. She has recently completed a YouTube web series, “Able to Go to College” in which she gave updates about life as a disabled college student. You can visit her website azisamazing.blogspot.com. AZ is also a youth leader at I am norm.
A version of this essay was originally published at AZ is Amazing. So, this is one of two essays that I aced for American Literature. I got an A- although, I did all the work, a lot of people helped me get this A, let’s take a look. Parents Shortly after I was born, I…