This post is authored by Don Peek, a former educator and past president of the training division of Renaissance Learning. He now runs The School Funding Center, a company that provides grant information and grant-writing services to schools. To learn more, or to subscribe to the School Funding Center Grant Database, go to schoolfundingcenter
Pleasant Memories – Pleasant People
I spent twenty years working in a couple of public schools in Northeast Texas. I served as a teacher, an assistant high school principal, a high school counselor, a middle school principal, and a district assistant superintendent. All along the way I built up a host of memories of special needs students. I have to say that after many years, foremost in my mind are the positive ones I had with these special education students.
I’ll never forget a sixth grade boy I had in my first world geography class. I was 20, right out of college, and I had no idea how to teach, much less teach a student with special needs. He was a little different from other students, but he was friendly and very smart. I was amazed at his terrible handwriting. I was also amazed that he had an immediate grasp of material one day and sometimes couldn’t remember a bit of it the next.
Finally, toward the end of the second semester, his mother met with me and told me about his past. He had fallen from a porch when he was young and hit his head. He was brain damaged. The two most evident results of this brain injury were his terrible handwriting and his short-term memory loss. I was young, the year was 1972, and I’m sure we didn’t have the greatest special education services at that time in the small school district where I taught. At least, from that point forward, I knew to investigate and get help when students didn’t function the way I felt that they should. I still think of that small boy and the ways that I failed him, but I also remember how smart and how funny he was. Overall, he is very pleasant memory for me.
When I was an assistant high school principal, I was much more involved with special education students as a whole, mainly because I wanted to be. I remember talking to a parent who had twin high school sons. They had a low intelligence level, but they were two of the most cooperative, happy people I’ve ever met. I once told their mother not to worry about their futures. As long as they kept their personalities and their smiles they would be fine. I wouldn’t have hesitated to hire them in a dozen different settings where they would interact with the public.
When I changed high schools, still as assistant principal, I worked with a group that went to a sheltered workshop each day. I remember two students especially. One was a young man with Down syndrome. He was always available for a nice hug and almost always had a smile on his face. I remember being concerned about his future, but I remember always feeling good when I was around him. He made me feel better.
Another young man in that group was severely autistic. He had large calluses on one hand where he repeatedly chewed on it. He also hit his head on walls when he was extremely upset – even if it was brick, but unless he was having some type of problem at the moment, he was always good for a handshake and a smile. I know he always made me smile, and that is the main memory I have of him.
Finally, when I was a middle school principal, I had one young man on campus in a motorized wheelchair. He was a card. He raced around the school like a drag racer. He often gave people rides. He even cut wheelies in the breezeway at lunch. I would find him in the center of a circle of students cutting up for them.
That young man will be confined to that wheelchair for the rest of his life, but rather than complain about his handicap, he found ways to have fun himself and entertain those around him. He was just fun to me around.
I now realize as I finish writing this blog that these memories are all of male students. I have no idea why that is, but I do know that each of these young men I’ve mentioned hold a very special place in my memories, not because of their handicaps, but in spite of them.
Grant Name: BWI Summer Reading Program Grant
Funded By: American Library Association
Description: This grant is designed to encourage outstanding summer reading programs by providing financial assistance, while recognizing ALSC members for outstanding program development. The applicant must plan and present an outline for a theme-based summer reading program in a public library. The program must be open to all children (birth -14 years). The committee also encourages innovative proposals involving children with physical or mental disabilities.
Program Areas: Library, Disabilities
Recipients: Public School, Private School, Higher Ed, Other
Proposal Deadline: 12/1/12
Average Amount: $3,000.00
Availability: All States