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Children's Book About Special Needs - Blog
Well, here we are once again. A week out from the day cupid decides our fate. He loves me. She loves me not. Husbands are frantically trying to make dinner reservations (hubbies, if you're not, that was your cue), wives are looking for something cute to wear - or if you're a mom, something CLEAN to wear. And the teachers - well the teachers are trying to figure out just where in their day they can squeeze the almighty valentine exchange that takes place among the kids, and inevitably leads to someone in tears.
Yes. It's true. You remember being in third grade and having a crush on the cutest girl or boy in class, only to have your heart pulverized when all they did was sign their name to the back of their Care Bears valnetine. We had thoughts like "That's it?? Just a name?? No heart? No smiley face?? No L-O-V-E???" And then we usually did this:
Oh - so what...you never did that? Just me? Ok - that's cool. I'll take the hit on this one. It's cool.
But in all seriousness, as a kid, for some reason we placed an exorbitant amount of importance on Valentine's Day. As I listen to my daughter's friends as they chat about crushes, I realize not much has changed, so I'm going to make a small request (if you have time this year). When your kiddo is filling out this year's confections of affection, maybe instead of just signing their name, you can have them write ONE THING they like about each student in their class. And THEN sign their name.
I realize this seems hokey, but here's the thing - many, many, MANY schools across the country are still not inclusive in nature - so children with special needs are separated, or only with their classmates for short bursts of time - usually during electives. Because they don't get much time with their actual peers, they miss out on the friendships, bonds, and relationships that are formed by being together. Friendships aren't as strong as they could be, nuances are not learned or understood - kids lose out on the opportunity to be kids together. But maybe ...just maaaayyyybeeeee this small act of writing one thing they like about their classmates will encourage them to get to know the kid in class who fidgets a lot, or the kiddo who struggles with reading...the boy with the blue glasses, or the girl with the hot pink wheelchair.
I mean, it's el dia de amor....we should at least be inclusive with our amor.
How many of us remember being in the 1st or 2nd grade and the permission slip being passed around to join the Girl Scouts? I totally do! I was so excited to be a part of this thing that I had no knowledge of, but the pictures of the girls on the flier had them all wearing matching uniforms and all I knew was that I. WANTED, IN.
Fast forward 30 years and my Emory was a mini-version of my own six year old self, squawking excitedly and waving the girl scout flier sent home from school in her hand. To say my girl was excited was putting it lightly. She looked kind of like this:
Yeah...that's pretty accurate. And how could I blame her? She got her own vest that SHE got to accessorize with pins and patches - it was like a fashion dream come true for her. And truth be told, I was pretty excited too! I remembered being a Brownie and going on nature hikes, and doing arts and crafts, and making some of my closest elementary school friends. It was going to be rad - and since it was being offered at her school, which is inclusive, her educational aide would be with her to help her with activities and it was going to be great! Three finger salutes and high fives for days!
Except it wasn't.
Without going into great detail, I soon found out that the troop leaders were not acting inclusively, and basically leaving Emory to work with just her aide - not the other girls in her troop. When it was time for the pinning ceremony, this continued, with me having to walk her through the ceremony instead of being able to enjoy watching it like other parents. My ire was high, and I left in tears. For a long time I refused to have anything to do with Girl Scouts, asked them to stop emailing me, and advised that we would never participte in another GS program.
I guess the universe had other plans though because a year later I ended up face to face with the Chief Operations Officer of our local Girl Scouts organization. I ended up telling her about the issues I had with the troop that was led at Emory's school, and she was as aghast as I was. She couldn't believe that was happening within the troop and ceremony because it did not align with the Girl Scout values. She asked if I'd like to speak more about it, but my mama ire hadn't fully subsided yet and so I declined. But again, the universe was like...
Months went by - almost a full year really, and I kept thinking about it. There was a nagging to do something about the experience, and so I picked up the phone and called the COO. I finally knew what needed to be done. I needed to turn my tears into triumph and bring the full concept of inclusion to my local Girl Scout organization. I proposed bringing the story of Meet ClaraBelle Blue to their youngest troops, with the possibility of building it into a patch or badge program. My gut told me that if I could get the kids on board, the adults would follow, because let's face it, as adults, we can be dense at times. She went for it, and the VIA (Visibility, Inclusion, Accessibility) patch program was born.
To say that I am proud of this collaboration is an understatement. I almost missed an opportunity to continue my work as an advocate for inclusion, behind hurt feelings and anger. But in my gut, I knew that if this happened to my Emory, it happened to someone else's Emory. I instinctively understood that the actions were likely not intentional - they just didn't know better, and I am of the belief that when you KNOW better you DO better. So, here we are, a full two years later, collaborating....turning tears into troops. I'll be leading an inclusion workshop for troop leaders, writing columns on inclusion and inclusive activities for the Girl Scout newsletter, and leading the VIA patch program with the Tucson Daisies, Brownies, Juniors, and Cadettes. I couldn't be more excited about this venture with Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona and for their openness and commitment to inclusion for ALL girls. Sometimes, when we get past our feelings, the universe shows us how to BE the change instead of waiting for the change to just happen.
Are your kids scouts? Were you a scout? What were some of your favorite things to do?