It has been exciting and exhausting this past week and I needed a much-deserved break. This week I realized a dream I have had for a long time, to teach young children about the importance of asking questions and to see that we have a lot in common with each other. None of this could have been done without the people who believed in me.
I told you all about my work with my teacher friend. I have spoken to her classes for the last 15 years. Sadly this year was my last time with her classes. Lisamaire and I have teamed up to help students see what disability looks like. To encourage them to ask questions and be a friend. To not be afraid of people who are different from themselves because we experience the same things. We experience happiness, sadness, leadership, friendship but most of all our love for learning.
Passionate and compassionate
Most people think that it is difficult to teach about inclusion and that special skills are needed. In order to teach children with special needs you must be a special educator. That is simply not true, you just have to have compassion and passion to teach. Lisamarie is one of those teachers. One who sees all children for who they are and adapts her curriculum to meet the need of the student. Had it not been for her I would not not have ever been able to reach the two hundred 5th graders this past week.
Exactly when our paths crossed, I don’t know. She has the most amazing daughter, Kayla who has been my friend forever. We have the type of friendship where we cheer each other on from the sidelines and we are supportive and always present but rarely do we get to spend time together. The beauty of it is, when we sit down we don’t shut up, no time has passed. I don’t remember how we became friends, but the story goes that we met at a birthday party held at McDonald's and never stopped being friends.
We did all kinds of things together and of course, have many memories. One that stuck out in my head was when we were going to this ceramic place, Art & Soul. It was a tradition of ours to go paint and then eat at Friendly’s. At Friendly’s, we always got the same thing, mini mozzarella sticks, chicken sandwiches, and make sundaes. Don't forget the Fribble. Lisamariealways tells the story of the day she watched my dribble disappear like I was a vacuum. The evening would always end with a picture in front of Friendly’s.
On one such occasion, as happens often, there was no place to park that had a curb cut nearby. This particular day I was in my manual chair because my power chair was in the shop. Mom let us out where the curb cut was and went to go park the car. Lisamarie thought she could easily push my chair without fear of knocking something over. Many times she tried to drive my other chair with disastrous results and bruised arms. She was brave this day, with no power, no problem except she tried to bounce me over the cub and this set me flying and almost tipping over the chair. This sent me and Kayla into hysterics and her into mortification. Thankfully no one was hurt but, I think that was the last time she ever drove my chair.
Another occasion was when I was in Florida at my Nana’s for my 21st birthday. Kayla and I share May birthdays and she was in town. I was lucky enough to be able to spend the day in Disney and then meet up with them. They live about four hours from Disney so we met halfway in between. We had a great dinner, even though it wasn’t Friendly’s it was still as though no time had passed between us. We went outside to recreate our last picture in front of Friendly’s. While we were taking the picture, a small compact car pulled out. The driver yelled over to us, Did you call an Uber? We looked at each other in total disbelief that someone would think we called an Uber. Where were we supposed to put my 300-pound powerchair, on the roof? It's something we laugh about every time we see each other.
Come talk to my students
Anyway, one-day Lisamarie asked me if I would come into her classroom and talk to her kids during Capabilities week. Sure, I thought I could spend the day chatting about myself, it would be fun. Little did I know what that would turn into. A dream to talk to all students about what it is like to be disabled and to change their minds about what they knew. I knew I was impacting these kids in some way, I just didn’t know how much until she moved. Our sessions went from in-person to over Zoom.
I was in Target one day and I hear a voice call out my name. This young man was horsing around with all his friends and she stopped what he was doing and come over to me. Did he say, Hi Allison, remember me? I’m Jordan from Ms. Portoros's class. I couldn’t believe it. Someone actually was listening to what I was saying and remembered me. He was no longer that 10-year-old boy but and 18 year old getting ready to graduate from high school. It was a moment, I did it. It felt fantastic and I wanted to do it again. Once I graduated with my degree, I approached the superintendent of our district about a plan to change how they teach children about disability using real students with disabilities instead of stupid puppets. She was very excited about the prospect of being a district to set the standard for others to follow.
I can do this
The plan was set into motion. In my imagination I was the consultant, running the show. In reality, It was just the idea of trying to get past those that didn’t see the need for change. In the end, I needed more help to hold the heavy door open while I rolled through. Without even asking a powerhouse stepped forward and said what do need, let's get this done. Doors magically opened, people listened, and I wasn’t just run over. In the end, I spoke to two hundred students, most of whom have never seen a girl in a wheelchair. I changed their minds. I showed them what we have in common and explained to them how they too could make a difference in someone else's life.
On to the Middle School
I even impressed those that thought I wouldn’t make an impact on. So much so that they have asked me to do it again, this time at the middle school. During this time I also found a powerful ally in the SEPTA president. She has been tirelessly working toward the same goal for over a year. To create an inclusive culture in which everyone is accepted and treated equally. She secured Capabilities Week districtwide, not just elementary level. To bring our district one step closer to being not only inclusive physically but also in the way they think. We have our work cut out for us but I am excited to get started as soon as the school is over.
So thank you Lisamarie for everything you have done for me from your friendship to your mentorship. You helped me in ways you have no idea. Thank you for being the teacher that you are. I will miss talking to your students so we have to figure out a way to zoom.
Thank you for reading until the end!
This is the view from my wheelchair, where miracles can make a difference. Always Strive for the Impossible. Come back next week to see what is on my mind and hear more about my experiences and The View From My Wheelchair.