Wandering around the school at lunch I always ponder what’s going on around me and how things have changed and continue to improve in the world of education. Today my thoughts wandered to “What would have happened to ______ in the school system in which I grew up?” I saw Jimmy (no real names) who has a gregarious personality and genuinely wants the best for everyone. But he’s not particularly academic, he ran into some minor behaviour issues as a younger student and his outgoing boisterous nature, coupled with not always knowing “when to stop” means he can rub people the wrong way. He’s offended more than a few fellow students and teachers alike. In a school in the 70s or 80s Jimmy would most likely have dropped out by now and would probably have been labeled a “juvenile delinquent” for his lack of abilities at school coupled with his indiscretions. Yet in 2014 Jimmy is an integral part of the fibre of our facility. He’s at the centre of the cafeteria high fiving and greeting all comers, he loves being here (despite his struggles) and in his own ways he’s growing into a genuine leader.
As I ponder Jimmy’s progress Alexa comes bouncing past, the human pinball. Alexa has ASD and ADHD and as such is pretty unpredictable (not in a dangerous way) one moment to the next. Each day she literally bounces around the cafeteria group to group, table to table saying hi, proclaiming random facts about Harry Potter or One Direction to anyone and everyone. But all her fellow students take it in stride, nobody looks askance, everyone says hi, many even listening sincerely to her essentially random ideas. And there’s Jimmy in the centre of it, hi fiving Alexa every time she wanders past, asking how her day’s been so far, engaging her (as much as possible) in friendly conversation.
Forty years ago I’m pretty sure most high schools wouldn’t have had a place for Jimmy or Alexa. I know my own high school, though liberal and caring for its day, would have been unwelcoming in ways both subtle and blatant for either of these two students. Both of these kids will have struggles in their lives more profound than most of us will face. And these are only two of myriad others who have unique challenges of their own. But at least we now provide a warm, caring inclusive place for them as they develop the social skills necessary to function in our ever more diverse society. That is a distinct improvement over how school “used to be done”.
Now that we provide such an inclusive environment for all learners other issues are starting to appear…stay tuned.