Cats, Students and the Gifts They Bring

Whiska sleeping
Upon our family's return from St. Louis several weeks ago, our indoor/outdoor cat, Whiska, barely rubbed our legs before bolting outside. She excitedly dashed between the yard and the house multiple times as we carried in our luggage before reappearing, yowling with joy, as something tightly clamped in her jaw muffled the sound. Although the commotion was confusing at first, it was soon revealed to be a struggling and squawking bird...a bright red cardinal to be exact. My husband, Bill, who comes from a long line of St. Louis Cardinals fans, looked admiringly at the feline and fowl, commending our huntress for the appropriate welcome home gift. I reminded him that no matter how fitting the offering was, it was still Indiana’s state bird.


Our daughter shrieked as she accidentally let the pair into the house and we scrambled, blocked and finally ushered both gift giver and gift out of our home. Whiska communicated through a series of guttural declarations and yips across the screen door that separated us, looking from us to the now inanimate creature on the step, her confusion apparent to those of us standing in the kitchen. Bill praised her for her generous token, and I grabbed the disinfectant cleaner.

As I wiped down the floor, cabinets and walls, I pondered my reaction as a vegetarian and pacifist to the frequent lifeless bodies left on our breezeway step. Countless bunnies, tiny shrews, and a wide variety of birds were out next to the newspaper to greet us many mornings. Sometimes an unexplained larger, more interesting creature -- like the opossum that was not actually playing dead in our yard -- appeared. The mysteries of our slightly feral and fierce feline were vast. Somehow I managed to view her with wonder instead of disgust, cleaning up her sometimes messy contributions.

Whiska’s gifts, though non-traditional, were from the heart. Educating myself on what they meant was half of the battle. A quick internet search on The Spruce Pets website for why cats leave dead animals for their owners revealed, “...when a cat brings you an animal they caught, be it alive or dead, they consider you a part of their family.” She considers us part of her clowder.

My mind drifted to the gifts I have received from students over the years, sometimes equally as foreign and in need of translation:
  • The gift of conversation after a student had refused to do so for hours
  • The gift of a paragraph written after the student learned how to use word prediction software
  • The gift of a classroom discussion after the student was shown how to access and read audio text
...the list goes on and on.

Not all gifts that we receive, or give for that matter, are apparent to others. Much like Whiska’s expression of gratitude for the environment we have provided for her, universally designing a classroom to make sure every student feels as if he or she belongs, has been thought of and nurtured can only lead to larger feelings of community and acceptance.

We, as educators, are repaid for this conscious effort through student participation, work completion, further education, boosts in student confidence and smiles...which are my favorite. Thankfully students, unlike felines, rarely give back the gift of a dead bird.

Whiska sleeping on her back

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Spring Break...Or Is It?


We have been looking at websites and talking about the sights and sounds of our upcoming trip to St. Louis, Missouri, for several weeks now! Our family is very excited! I have wanted to take our 7-year-old daughter, Zoë, to the City Museum in St. Louis since her first step -- fearing that if I took her too young, I would spend my time looking for her and being worried. If you are not familiar with the museum, is in an old 10-story shoe factory downtown. Floor after floor, kids (and adults) are encouraged to run, jump, climb and dance through tunnels, cave systems and a circus -- to name a few things. There are over 30 slides. I am bursting with excitement!



suspended pathways and structures on the exterior of the City Museum

My best friend and her family suggested that we rent an apartment near the zoo together, and we found the perfect place! It is right off of Forest Park, where the zoo and so many other activities are at our fingertips! We plan to roam the park that contains a pavilion, which was created with proceeds from the 1904 World’s Fair! I am a huge roadside attraction person and the park is full of monuments and statues from a giant turtle to an elephant reaching for leaves in the trees. We will be able to take our time seeing a huge waterfall created during the World’s Fair, the art museum and planetarium.

My friend ordered brochures that have a huge kid’s map of the city, and we have watched multiple YouTube videos on what to expect when we ride to the top of the St. Louis Arch. We can decide which day might provide the most glorious view of the Mississippi River or the Courthouse greens, depending upon which way we decide to look out.

St. Louis Arch at dusk
If you were my teacher and asked me to talk about my spring break, this is exactly what I would tell you...all of the gorgeous details! I would not hold back on the excitement of what was getting ready to happen! I would unintentionally brag out of sheer enthusiasm for what is going to be the best part about not being in school.

What if, however, you were not going anywhere. What if your family never planned a trip, or had the money to go. What if you got yelled at by your mom if you mentioned doing something over break, or if your parents worked and you were watched for a week by a random family member? What if you were not sure where you were going over break? What if home is not your safe place, and every day you look forward to coming back to school because the stress level seems so much less there? There are a lot of reasons, suddenly, for a student not to want to hear about break and not to celebrate the minutes escaping from the clock as its hands journey toward dismissal.

As teachers, we are born to celebrate the excitement of our students. Sharing what was to come or what happened during a break is part of what has always happened in classrooms. After all, it is fun to talk about these things, for most. Still, imagine for a moment if you dreaded going home for even a night or a weekend and the rest of your classroom was happily counting down to the final bell by crossing off days on a fun calendar? What if your only option during a Language Arts lesson was to write about upcoming plans when it was the source of so much stress? What if your favorite teacher kept on saying, “I can’t wait until next week!” in front of you? How would you interpret that emotion and how it related to you?

As teachers we have to be mindful. I am not sure I processed this enough when I taught my own classroom, but I certainly was attuned to it when I was part of behavioral support team for a small school district. I had many conversations with staff members just making them aware that some students were not celebrating. I saw teachers change their phrasing from “vacation” to “break.” I saw lots of one to one conversations and reassuring moments of us all being back together in a week. I engaged with students who I thought might be worrying and helped them put vocabulary to the emotions they were feeling because it is hard to express things that you don’t have words for.

As school breaks for the spring term, keep these kiddos in mind. They are out there and they are nervous. That does not mean that students are not allowed to express fun times had before and after break, but maybe through more personal conversations and alternative writing prompts and activities that include both vacationers and "staycationers."
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Returning to Mindfulness and Reaping the Benefits

clementine oranges with leavesSitting “criss-cross applesauce” on the circle rug in my daughter’s kindergarten class last year, I learned something new. Maybe it wasn’t completely new, but certainly not practiced consistently in the “rush around world” I seem to be living in.

Ms. Indu, the founder of the school, passed around a little white basket of brightly colored clementines to all of the parent-night attendees. She instructed each person to select a fruit, then encouraged us to examine the smooth texture. She quietly described the hands that planted the seeds...hands that were passed down from ancestors, and ancestors, and ancestors. She characterized the process of love and nurturing that allowed it to grow into a tree. As the fruit ripened, sweet and heavy, she discussed the hands that picked it from the green leaves so high up in the tree. How many hands passed the clementine as it was washed, shined, packed and transported to the grocery store. She detailed the careful stacking of each clementine by a person who came from ancestors, who came from ancestors, who came from ancestors. She considered the inspection and selection that you, the consumer, went through to bring this delicious snack home.

As the mindful activity unfolded, I watched my husband Bill’s face out of the corner of my eye. He sat, looking at the clementine and listening intently to Ms. Indu speak. I fought back a sudden wave of the giggles as I wondered what this 45-year-old man would do when asked to eat the delicious fruit. Bill is what I would call a “reformed picky eater.” When he was young, he would reject a hamburger if the plate was sprinkled with parsley. Over the past 10 years he has developed into what I would consider a “typical eater” with occasional moments of adventure. One thing, however, that I knew for sure was that he did NOT like clementines. Clementines, oranges, grapefruit, none of them!

I closed my eyes and concentrated on putting the clementine segment in my mouth. Ms. Indu continued to guide us through the mindful activity of tasting the sweetness of the fruit, savouring the tangy yet sweet ...wait...what did I hear? Was that...chewing? Bill was chewing. Eyes closed, intently listening, and chewing. He was not just eating a piece of the clementine, he was eating the entire fruit. Mindfulness.

Mindfulness, in this case, turned my “typical eater” into a person who now purchases a bag of clementines every time he goes to the grocery store. He is now a person who carefully stacks the fruit in a blue glass bowl on our counter and enjoys the flavor and benefit of this nutritious snack. That moment of sitting on the kindergarten rug with purposeful and guided thought actually changed his pattern of thinking. I think he surprised himself that evening. He certainly never thought of himself as a citrus lover.

As I processed the mindful activity that led to a pattern change for Bill, I started to ponder school environments, students and how simple mindful activities might shape everyday activities. Research has shown that mindful behavior actually changes the neurological patterns in the brain. Mindful activities can promote goal setting and attainment, overall peacefulness throughout a school day and can be a confidence builder for a student who is struggling.

As a teacher, mindful attention to the day can increase student connectivity and might bring attention to the individual gifts students bring to the table with a reduced focus on those items that seem to be out of our control.

I was recently in a classroom in Greencastle where a teacher of students with Emotional Disabilities was detailing some of the progress the students had experienced this semester. She explained that every morning the students took a moment to reflect quietly on the upcoming day, to process through the daily hurdles and to have a moment to gather thoughts of how to navigate. She attributed much of the success of her students to that carefully planned moment in time, and stated that if something happened and that moment did not occur, the day definitely reflected it. The skill she was teaching did not cost money. A student never had to be without it because it comes from within. It was a life skill that encouraged goal setting and personal growth. What more could we possibly want for our students?

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Rachel Herron
Thank you so much!!! I am in total agreement! I was so impressed that the teacher, Jessica Tomasino, was so thoughtful about thi... Read More
Thursday, 18 January 2018 21:06
Rachel Herron
Fantastic! That makes my day! I need to make sure that I am also practicing this incredible skill! Thank you for reading this G... Read More
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Rachel Herron
You are the second person who has mentioned automated systems to me this week! I had not even considered it before, but it is so ... Read More
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Lessons from the Past Shape the Future


A friend of mine asked me how my job was going. At the time, I was working as a behavior support person in district where every day was a brand new adventure of finding the best way to educate students with various levels of trauma. I answered her in very general terms...my day had been spent jumping from meeting to meeting with various students, staff members, therapists, parents and social workers and I was exhausted. How could I explain the phenomenon of helping a student in crisis only to find another student, and another student, and another student in line behind the first.


“Wow,” she remarked. “Times have changed. We never had students like that in school when we were growing up. What has happened?” The remark was innocent enough. I began to scan my memory banks for a clue of how to answer her. My mind searched elementary and middle school files as I tried to remember students who were difficult to plan for...students who needed extra resources and consideration. I remembered the challenges of having child refugees from Vietnam in my early elementary school classes in Texas who did not speak English, which was the predominate language. These students were definitely in crisis and had been through trauma, but outside of this group of special children, I could not remember the type of support required daily to so many students with Emotional Disabilities.

I wanted to be thoughtful in my reply, because I did not want to be unfair to the teachers I had in school. I had some really great teachers and I do not have a memory of having a crisis intervention team entering our room to help with students. I don’t remember student disruption occurring beyond minor disagreements. I remember faces of the students who would have been considered as behavior problems. I remember the threat we all had hanging over us of going to the principal’s office. I remember those students being sent and sometimes never returning to class.

Suddenly the light bulb in my brain flashed on.

“Well of course we have always had these students.” I replied. “We just have not always been charged with educating them.” If students had a behavioral issue that was strong enough to be dealt with, the student was removed from school. No one wondered if something deeper, more pervasive was behind the student’s behavior. No one questioned whether the curriculum should be adjusted to try to help students. No one created an individualized behavior plan to try to keep students in school or found a therapist or social worker to help the student work through issues. The student was simply “let go.”

I had a huge realization that day about the state of our country. Students who were once forgotten and disposed of in our educational system are now being helped. Most of my career has been devoted to finding a way for every student to have the opportunity to learn and I am not alone. Across the state, every day, I am witnessing the same kind of compassion and careful planning for students who were once punished or removed. Teachers are looking for resources and striving to connect with students in new and groundbreaking ways.

I recently was given the incredible gift of being able to work with students and teachers of students who have Emotional Disabilities through The PATINS Project. The focus of this charge is to discover different ways to support individuals through technology, strategies and principles of Universal Design for Learning. Already teachers across the state are using relaxation techniques, self regulation processes and calming environments with students who are in crisis. Technology elevates those strategies in order to give students an independent moment with a calming app, self monitoring journal or video of the classroom activities while respectfully being given permission to de-escalate.

Teachers are understanding that along with the Emotional Disability qualification, a student might have an unidentified or secondary learning disability. To have a classroom that is already created to consider different means of expression and reception of materials is such a positive direction for students who might be struggling.  

I am so glad the viewpoint is evolving. Education is a thoughtful field and the endeavor of finding new ways to elevate self growth and understanding amongst teachers is a full time job. Challenging old ways of thinking and finding resources to help face this undertaking is only part of the battle. This is a time of enlightenment and consideration for all students. Placing value on ways to keep students in school, no matter how challenging the behavior, is a passion of mine and I am grateful to be a part of the revolution.

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UDLabyrinth


On a recent gorgeous summer night the only choice my family had to make was whether to walk or ride bikes through town. The unanimous vote was to walk, and the mile that separates our house on Franklin College Campus to the courthouse on the square was full of colorful discussion. My 6-year-old daughter Zoë was very excited about the adventure. She mused aloud about many topics -- including how high the water was in the creek, why the college boys next door grilled in the rain and when she could host her next sleep-over. As we wandered through the streets of the downtown area, smoky barbecue aroma surrounded us from the annual competition that had taken place earlier that day.


We found ourselves heading south on Main Street toward a labyrinth nestled in a small sculpture garden that Richard Goss, owner of Richard’s Brick Oven Pizza, built in 2015. The labyrinth that started out as foot-tall bushes now loomed over our heads.

Richard Labyrinth
Zoë asked endless questions about the purpose of a labyrinth, what it was used for and what people did once inside. I explained that labyrinths were used for meditation and reflection, moving through the intricate design was personal and people used it for different reasons. We stood at the entrance of the maze together. The only direction I gave her was that once inside the labyrinth walls she could move through in her own personal way, but with a catch. She would have to be silent. I explained that some people (like me) chose to reflect and think in a labyrinth, which is hard to do with people  talking or making noise. She nodded in understanding and looked longingly at the entrance. I asked her if she would like to go in first and she entered, smiling over her shoulder.

I moved onto the stony pathway next, ambling at a medium pace but deliberately taking in every step, trying to clear my mind. As the fog began to lift, tiny granules of thought began to form into larger structures, castles of ideas began to envelop the dark corners of my brain. With every step, every twist and turn of the path, I felt myself sinking into the calmness and refreshment of what the labyrinth meant to me.

I glanced to my right and made out the shape of my husband, Bill, as he followed his path through the labyrinth. Our paths that once seemed very different converged for a brief moment. His eyes never met mine as he focused on a spot on the horizon; he walked slowly and deliberately and appeared to be far away. He methodically moved through the intricate design in total silence. I ached for a moment, wishing I could focus my mind in the same way, shutting out the sound of the breeze, the birds overhead, the occasional swish of my arms brushing against the hedge wall.

WHOOSH...I could see my daughter's pink shirt through the hedge in a blur as she ran by. I could see her curls blowing back in the breeze. My attention turned to the sound of the gravel crunching under her feet in a rapid pace, her head tilted slightly back in sheer exhilaration but still in complete silence. I giggled to myself as she dashed by. She was doing exactly what I asked her to do, but her style was completely contrasting mine.  

Upon reflection I realized that we had one labyrinth and one instruction yet three totally different interpretations of how we were going to complete the task. Was my method any better than Zoë’s? Was my reaction to the labyrinth any less because I was not focused like Bill? We all reached the end with a better understanding of what the journey meant to us. It was personal and uniquely executed but the gains were similar.  

As I walked away from the labyrinth, I considered the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Figuring out the most personal and unique way to increase knowledge while being given a multitude of tools and approaches seems like a never ending task. Piquing interest/designing education in order to engage students who come from so many different backgrounds and preferences in learning is the hurdle that teachers face daily.  

Allowing for differences, planning ahead to make sure that those differences are not only accounted for, but respected every day, is what UDL is all about. After all, it is not how we get to the finish line, it is what we know when we get there. Our journey is the most important part.


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Getting Lost and Found in Translation

For several hours I was lost in Paris. I was in my early twenties and the world was just starting to expand for me. I had frequently been lost in America, lost in England and lost in my own world, but all of these places shared one commonality...they were places where English was the predominate language. However, THIS moment I was lost in France, only armed with the phrase “Le garçon stupide!” which translates roughly to “The stupid boy!” I began to panic.

That day, I found out that part of getting by in another country was being nice enough to the people there to get them to speak English. It almost seemed as though everyone knew English. Kindness elicited a heavily accented response, sometimes broken, sometimes flowing, in my own language. How lucky I was that they were willing to help an American girl with mascara tears running down her face.  

During those hours of being lost, I discovered a huge difference between this country and mine. My country is landlocked for miles with people who mostly speak the same language and have the expectation that others will learn the language as well. The concept that people living in states as close to me as Kentucky or Illinois would speak different languages is mind boggling. People growing up in France probably learned English, German and Spanish in order to communicate with the people right next door.  

Many years later in America I faced the obstacles of speaking a predominant language and teaching students who did not grow up speaking English. My first year of teaching high school in Chicago found me in a school where 87% of the 3,000 students who attended came from Spanish speaking homes. When I moved to Assistive Technology several years later, I worked with a group of children who had moved from a 16th century agrarian farm setting to the third largest city in America. How was I going to speak to the children? How would I communicate with their families? Software and translators were present, but not mainstream and very expensive. How would I meet the needs of people who could not use kindness to have someone help them in their own native tongue? No amount of “kindness’ on their part would be rewarded by my speaking a language that they understood back to them.

I would like to thank Kelli Suding, another PATINS Specialist, for showing me one of the best apps I have heard about in a long time. Google Translate. Google Translate is free, easy to use and has incredible features. The app translates 103 languages. It translates handwriting directly applied to the screen. A person can speak into a microphone and the app translates what is being said in real time. A phrasebook can be programmed to save translated words and phrases for another time. The best feature, to me, is the camera translation. If you hold the camera up to anything written, it translates the image to the desired language. Imagine holding your phone camera up to a direction sign, or document in a foreign country. Imagine changing the language of a document in real time in a case conference for a family who needs the kindness of someone speaking in their native tongue.

Over winter break I met a woman from Turkey who was visiting her son in Manhattan. As we laughed and talked, I watched her wistful smile as she was not able to join the conversation. I realized after I left that I had the key, and immediately sent them the information on the Google Translate app. A week later, I received the best text of the year. Google Translate was a game changer for the entire family. The text recounted how incredible her trip was and the enjoyment she felt as she was able communicate with everyone. She was able to read signs, converse back and forth and gain independence over her vacation. It was almost as if she was kind enough to get someone to speak to her in her native tongue.


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5th Grade, UDL and PLENTY of reasons to be Thankful

"Get out a sheet of paper and put your heading in the upper right hand corner.” This direction was given to my 5th grade class multiple times throughout a school day by my teacher, Mr. Mull. What happened next was a “choose your own adventure.” Could it be a pop quiz? A spelling test? Were we going to be given a topic to write about? Would that topic be The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton? If so, I had my tattered, dog-eared copy available at all times for reference. I usually sat with my fingers and toes crossed hoping that Mr. Mull did not drift toward the record player in the back of the room where “Mr. Numbers,” the recorded multiplication test, lived. I get sweaty and nervous even today just thinking about it.

This process was pretty “cut and dried” in the 80’s. Students pulled a crisp sheet of college-lined, three-holed paper out of their desks and followed directions. No one ever said, “Is there an alternate way I can do this? We BOTH know you can’t read my writing.” No one ever said, “Do you mind if I dictate this? I am a great thinker, but when I start to worry about the mechanics of getting my thoughts down on paper, it never turns out the way it did in my head.” No one ever said, “My hand gets really tired when I write, and it is a really painful task for me. Do you have a way I can type one letter and a word is generated for me to select?” Everyone took out a piece of paper and tried to fulfill the request.  

My note paper was always a disaster. I was fortunate enough to be able to hand write assignments, but organization was not my forte. My desk looked like it had been ransacked by gerbils obsessed with building a “dream home” out of shredded tissue. Somehow, my loose leaf paper always seemed to turn gray in my desk, and I often found sheets of paper by closing my eyes and hoping that a fairy godmother had somehow waved a wand over my desk, rendering it organized. Still, I managed to smooth out creased pages, wipe away remnants of melted Hershey Kisses and write my name on the upper right-hand corner with my classmates. I remember my jealous amazement when I looked over at Kimberly B., the queen of unwrinkled paper, adorable handwriting and what-are-we-going-to-learn-next smiles.

Others in the class were lost. Really lost. Mr. Mull was the kind of energetic, dedicated teacher who would have accommodated for any learning difference if he had had the tools or the knowledge in the 80s. He was exactly the kind of person and fantastic teacher who would have embraced the principles of Universal Design for Learning in his classroom and made sure everyone was learning the way that made the most sense.

Today is an exciting era when teachers are starting to arm themselves with this knowledge. So many resources are available for teaching the principals of the UDL framework. Strategies to make sure each student has a personal way of expressing and receiving information are not even expensive. Those who take time for proactive planning can make a huge difference in the learning experiences of children.

As a former classroom teacher, I know how I felt about anything that was presented as “one more thing” added to my heaping plate of tasks to do at night. Now, as a person who trains teachers, I want to say, “But thinking about learning strategies up front makes everything that follows easier and more attainable.” It is definitely a shift in mindset.  

Flip back to my 5th grade class (PLEASE, for my sake, erase Mr. Numbers from the picture all together). Think about what the picture would look like with multiple means of expression and allowances for organization.  

Mr. Mull says, “All right class, get ready to express your viewpoints on The Outsiders.” Students automatically move to their preferred mean of expression. Kimberly B. pulls a fresh, crisp piece of paper from her neatly organized desk and looks at Mr. Mull expectantly. Gretchen W. takes out a small Chromebook with word prediction software already loaded so she can type one letter and have a list of words generate in a helper box. Heidi P. glances at a word wall in the classroom for extra reminders and help. Ann H. moves to her seat, equipped with a ball instead of a chair because she knows she writes better when she can also regulate her movement. Billy C. picks up a thicker pencil that really helps his grasp and allows him to write legibly. Buddy H. pulls out a blank comic strip and begins to draw, since he has found illustration a better way of getting his ideas across. I pull out my laptop and search through my organized folders for a fresh document — sans the Hershey Kiss stains and gray hue.  

On this day of being thankful, I turn my thoughts to the promise of a brighter future for students who in the past have been left in the dust. I give thanks to the teachers across the state who are taking every student into consideration — no matter how much work it is and I am forever indebted to excellent teachers, like Mr. Mull, who shaped my life and learning. Happy Thanksgiving!


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Tall Fences and Locked Doors

My first year of public school was spent at Greenwood Hills Elementary School in Richardson, Texas, right on the outskirts of Dallas. The year was 1978, and progressive theories of education were taking root around the country but were yet to be planted in most of Texas. Corporal punishment was alive and well; reading groups were broken down into high, middle and low categories — not much changed from the redbirds, bluebirds and blackbirds of my parents’ era; and differentiated instruction consisted of sending a student to the principal’s office for not working hard enough.

Special education did not appear to exist in my school. At the time, that was not a mystery to my six-year-old mind. It seemed most everyone was pretty much just like me. Still, other mysteries were plentiful.

One of the greatest mysteries to me was the tall fence that surrounded a tiny yard next to the playground. The slats of the fence were so close together that my eyes could not decipher what the large metal objects were on the other side. A tiny knot hole in the rotting wood allowed me a better glimpse one day; that is, until I heard a whistle blowing and realized it was directed at me. One of the teachers waved her arm at me across the blacktop, indicating that I needed to move away from the fence. Of course, this only intensified my desire to see inside. I managed to make out a metal structure that looked like a swing, but it was like no swing that I’d ever seen. What were they hiding from me? I just had to know.  

The answer came several months later at the school’s annual Halloween costume parade. That morning I shook with excitement as I put on the pink polka dot princess dress my mom had made for me and placed the spray-painted cardboard crown — with little mirrors I carefully had glued on every point — on my head.  

When I got to school, I realized something had changed in my hallway. A set of double doors that had always been closed with a padlock and chain were open. I had never noticed that we were being blocked from entering a part of our school. My curiosity surged and my heart began to pound as we marched down the hallway single-file. Whatever was beyond those doors was right next to the fenced-in yard. What I would find down that hall would change the course of my life.

The hallway was dim and although it was a mirror image of the hallway I had just left, it felt different. It was quiet and solitary, with the exception of moaning. I looked around at my peers to see if anyone else was as nervous as I was, and wide eyes reflected back at me as we walked, cautiously now. The source of the moaning drew closer, and what I saw was a puzzle, and a door opener. A child, not much older than I was, sat in a wheelchair with her mouth open in a broad grin as my classmates and I paraded past her dressed as goblins, pirates and clowns. 

Other students were gathered at the doors next to protective teachers who nodded at us as we passed. Not a word was spoken by the students in my class, nor were smiles returned, but the sentiment was clear. How had we be attending class every day with another world full of mystery simultaneously taking place just down the hall? Why were these children hidden away, and why were we educated in different classrooms from each other? Why did we play on different playgrounds?

The Halloween Parade of 1978 was a monumental moment in my life. That day is what made me volunteer with my father as a child through ARC and become a peer tutor in high school. It is the reason I became a special education teacher and fought for my students to be included in class. It is why I wanted to become a job coach in the community and to find technology that created leveled playing fields and voices for students who didn’t have them. And it is why I now am part of the PATINS team and why all of these years later I still work passionately for the equality of all students.  

Many tall fences and locked doors exist in education — also many bolt cutters and crow bars that break down these barriers. Finding ways for our children to have meaningful instruction in the classroom along-side their peers is one of the mystery solving hurdles that our country is facing. What tool are you going to use to rip down the walls?
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Rachel Herron
It is pretty incredible when you really dissect it! I am glad that kids growing up now are learning how to live and love differen... Read More
Thursday, 18 August 2016 13:30
Rachel Herron
It is kind of incredible to me how many people have shared similar stories from the same time period...I am glad yours are positiv... Read More
Sunday, 21 August 2016 11:35
Rachel Herron
Sue, as usual, you are correct! Allowing access for ALL students to these kinds of tools is part of the way we can help them be t... Read More
Thursday, 25 August 2016 10:07
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