Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Recognition Among the Typical

My daughter is 11 and has just entered 6th grade. Last year at the end of 5th grade we got the incredible news that she was selected as a Board Scholar in our school representing the district in Georgia.

The Elementary Board Scholars program began in 1983 as an initiative to promote outstanding academic achievement among elementary school students at a time when elementary schools in DeKalb were comprised of kindergarten through seventh grade. At that time, Board members at wanted to have a way to honor young academic achievers in a manner similar to the honors program in place for high school students. The concept of the program was originated by longtime board member Elizabeth Andrews who passed away in 2008. The program now celebrates the work of the top six students from the highest grade-level at each DeKalb elementary school. Board Scholars are selected on the basis of test scores, an essay and an interview. (2010) 
The thing about the program that I had witnessed over the years is that kids at this school was that the kids who were named Board Scholars had academic achievement - "on the basis on test scores" - and those that weren't served mightily by the special education department.

Kids served by the special education department weren't usually recognized beyond "Most Improved" (which she was also awarded, so you can imagine the confusion for some parents) and so, we were as shocked as we were proud. My girl worked really hard to achieve what she did...and it showed in her test scores from the beginning of the year to the end. She is what most would consider a special education success.

So often kids like my daughter and her brother are overlooked for mainstream recognition and I was really touched that our school didn't let her special education status hold her back from the "typical" award. By scores alone she wouldn't have ranked high enough to get this award but based on an interview and an essay (that she probably worked on with her special education teacher) and most likely her attitude to reach her goals. I wish all kids had an environment that nurtured them in a way that celebrated how far they've come, and how hard they tried, using only themselves and their progress in the grading equation.

I'm sure parents in our school were surprised she was chosen, but I'm so happy they witnessed an untypical kid getting typical recognition. She wasn't segmented out from the others and honestly, that is beyond what we could hope for in the past.

Maybe things are changing in the disability world, ever so slowly.

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Julia Roberts lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two kids. The kids have had kidney transplants, will require liver transplants one day and have learning disabilities and mental illness. She blogs at Kidneys and Eyes and is the co-founder of Support for Special Needs. 

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