How This Catholic School Included a Young Man with Down Syndrome
Updated: Jun 24, 2021
Inclusion in Catholic School
What is incredible about this story of inclusion in a small Catholic school in Ohio is that it was not born out of a legal dispute or political pressure. This story begins with a family going to their faith community and requesting that their child with Down syndrome attend St. Joseph’s Consolidated Catholic School. The school didn’t have any special education teachers and never had included a student with Down syndrome, but they were committed to making it work.
Sometimes, that is all you need.
This story is about a small Catholic school, and all of the people in it. From the principal, to the cafeteria helpers, to the families who send their children to St. Joseph’s Consolidated Catholic School, this is a place that should be listed on Hamilton, Ohio’s “Top Destinations to Visit.” Every person I interviewed proved at their core to be people filled with the faith and conviction that all people, especially those students with disabilities, be included. The Meehan family wanted to make this video so that they could share this story with other parents, school administrators, and teachers who may have doubts about including someone in their school. Their hope is to inspire each person with the story that inclusion is not only possible – but transformative for both the school and the child. Please join me in sharing this with people you know, and help pass along their message. – Katie Bachmeyer
National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion
If you haven’t heard about the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion, let us acquaint you with them.
Our mission is to inspire schools to begin the process of becoming inclusive, to educate teachers, parents, principals and priests on what it takes to be an inclusive school and to provide the educational research and real life experiences that support it.
Perhaps you are in a situation like the family in the video. You have a child with Down syndrome and want them to be included in your local Catholic school. Where do you start? The first step is to ask. All your school can say is “no.” Then you can take the steps necessary to advocate for your child.
We encourage you to take a look at the National Catholic Board’s resources on inclusion research, information on the harmful effects of segregation, and map of inclusive schools and dioceses.
In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, a small elementary school found a way to include students of all abilities.
“Every person has a purpose. And a school’s job and a family’s job and a church’s job is to help them find that purpose.”
“We kind of courted the principal. Introduced him to Mike, sent him a book, and described Down syndrome. I think he was looking for a way for it work, but initially said no.”
“Our principal came to us in a staff meeting and said Mr. Meehan has asked that Mike be included, and none of us are special ed teachers, so that was a legitimate concern.”
“We didn’t have all the answers starting out. We felt at times like we were inventing things.”
“It’s not easy to include students of different ranges. It can be frustrating.”
“Would it have been easier to just let Mike be in a special education classroom?
Would it have been easier? Probably. Maybe. But it wouldn’t be Mike Meehan as we know him today. This school would not be the same.”
“And it’s important for those children that have disabilities to be accepted so that they have dignity.”
Mike was the first student with Down syndrome to be included at the school.
Now the school serves many students with broad-ranging abilities.
“We truly believe there is a space and a place for all kinds of different people.”
“We don’t live in a perfect world, and so it’s very important I think that all of our kids learn that there is diversity, and everybody’s not the same, and thank goodness.”
“There’s nothing miraculous about St. Joe’s. There’s great principals and great teachers all over the place. St. Joe’s could be duplicated just about at any school in the Archdiocese. You just have to be willing.”
Mike will be applying to high schools in the coming year.
The family has found one high school in the Archdiocese that has an inclusive culture like St. Joe’s.
“This is worth the effort because if you do keep working with this kind of culture it an have very, very long-term effects on kids. I want kids to do well academically. I want kids to go as far as they can academically. But I want them to be good people, and when I hear that they are both. It’s like, okay. Now I know why I do this.”
Tim Villegas is the Director of Communications for MCIE, Editor-in-Chief of Think Inclusive, and the host of the Think Inclusive Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @TheRealTimVegas.