Change: It starts with me by Sarah

Sarah's entry into Varsity Tutor's June 2020 scholarship contest

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Change: It starts with me by Sarah - June 2020 Scholarship Essay

Change. Never before in my life has that word meant what it means today. True change is a very powerful direction. True change makes people uncomfortable. Better yet, makes the people who need to do the most changing the most uncomfortable.

In my intended career field of Special Education the word “inclusion” is thrown around as it sounds appealing and equitable. In my experience as a paraeducator true inclusion rarely happens. True inclusion means we do not place a student into a self-contained classroom when they show that they need more support throughout the day. All too often if a student has a behavior that is disruptive to the typical “normal” student they are often placed in an alternative classroom or program. All too often if a student is markedly behind their peers academically, they are not included in instruction with their class. Instead of using funding to better support our children socially, emotionally and academically, districts funnel money to their top earners instead of putting it where it is needed most, to the students. This needs to change now.

Children of color are disproportionately entered into special education over their white peers. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics in the 2018-2019 school year our children of color received more special education services than their white counterparts. This is not acceptable. We cannot continue to shove aside people that have been disenfranchised for far too long.

Studies have shown that all students benefit from true inclusion in the classroom. The general education students grow up to be more empathetic adults. They grow to be more tolerant humans. In turn, special education students are absent less often and their math and reading scores flourish. Growing up with people who look differently and act differently than you is a benefit to the human condition. For the past two years I have had the life changing experience of witnessing this first hand working as a one to one special education paraeducator. The child I worked with fit all the generic definitions of one who should be in a self contained classroom: uses a wheelchair, non-verbal, needs toileting support, motor skills inhibited, etc. In addition, he faces another hurdle by not being white. From the outside he fits the mold of what the institution calls Special Education. Thankfully, his teachers did not see his physical appearances and limited mobility as an obstacle, we changed the system to fit him. During the past two years this student has shown us that he CAN read. He CAN do math. HE CAN. He didn’t need to change, we did. We needed to change generations of predispositions. We needed to change what made us uncomfortable. We needed to do better for this child. Did it take more resources to educate this student in a general education classroom? Yes. Is it worth it? Definitely. We did change and it worked.

As I begin finishing my Bachelor Degree in Education with a Special Education emphasis I am vowing to change how we view special education and how those services are given. We need to change! We need to stop excluding people for differences that make us uncomfortable. We need to live in the uncomfortable. It is the living in the uncomfortable where the light of change is sparked.

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