Inclusive Special Education Benefits Everyone
There is a little note tacked up on the front of my refrigerator. A couple of typed lines on a torn piece of paper. I will frequently do this when I find a quote that resonates with me, or one I hope will speak to my children. I figure that my teenagers are in the refrigerator enough times a day there might as well be something there that inspires thought other than what they want to stuff into their stomachs.
Currently on the refrigerator hangs this quote:
There is one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life – reciprocity. ~Confucius
You get what you give. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Karma. What you put out into the universe is what you get back. This has sparked all sorts of conversations in my house and I can only hope deep thoughts while eating that 2am turkey sandwich.
This past year my eighth grade son was involved in a program at school called Partners in PE. Partners in PE is a reverse inclusion physical education class in which an equal number of general education students are brought into a special education setting to work as peer buddies, role models, and advocates for the students with disabilities.
Before my son’s involvement with this program I never really thought much about special education. It simply was not on my radar. During this school year, however, as my son would bring home stories from the class or from his interactions with peers I realized how valuable programs like Partners in PE are for all students. By getting to know the special education students he was able to correct misconceptions of his peers. I have heard him explain to them why the word “retard” is offensive. He developed a greater appreciation for what the special education students were capable of achieving and able to let go of his own prejudices in the process. His compassion and empathy astounded me at times for someone his age. I can only imagine that the other peer buddies who were picked to participate felt the same way.
I decided to interview my son and ask him what he thought after completing a year in the Partners in PE class.
How did you get involved with the Partners in PE class?
I was asked by the PE teacher if I would be interested in participating in the class. She thought that I would be a good fit for the class.
What qualities do you have that are important for peer buddies?
I think you need patience and understanding. And to be kind, definitely.
Did participating in the class give you a different perspective on the special ed students?
I learned about all different kinds of disabilities and that even the kids who were the most challenged could still have ways to participate. The activities would be modified. So, like, if we played kickball in the gym the kids who weren’t able to kick a moving ball would have the ball put in front of them to kick, or sometimes their partner would kick for them. The kids in wheelchairs could throw the ball instead.
It was about having fun, not being competitive with each other. Everyone did what they could do to the best of their ability. We had a lot of fun and everyone was happy for each others’ successes. I liked it so much more than a regular PE class.
What do you think you took away from the class?
I saw the kids as kids, not for their disabilities anymore. I don’t think that I ever would have talked to any of them or interacted with them since we don’t have any academic classes in common. But having participated in Partners in PE I was able to build relationships with them. I think that I am even less likely to judge people and spend more time getting to know people as individuals.
I think people are afraid sometimes of people who are different from them and maybe they don’t know how to relate. They are afraid that they will do or say the wrong thing. But they shouldn’t be. They are just kids like us. As long as you are kind, that’s all that matters. (Wow, maybe my children do pay attention to me!)
What was your favorite thing about the program?
At the end of the school year we had a field day with 5 other middle schools that was sponsored by the Special Olympics. It was fun. One of the heads of the Special Olympics of Texas was there and gave a speech and thanked all of us who were peer buddies. I don’t really think it was that big of deal. People should just be accepting and make an effort to get to know those who are different than them.
Also, we got to skip a day of school and have a picnic. So that was fun.
Do you think that you will continue to be involved in this program when you go to high school next year?
I hope so. I really enjoyed it. Plus it would be great to see some of the same kids again.
When we give of ourselves it is not something that can be quantified or measured. We do not truly know the impact that we have on the lives of others. We can only know how we feel.
What my son gave of himself to the Partners in PE program, was returned to him. A lesson in reciprocity, something many adults still haven’t learned.