Our daughter Cecelia has been fully included at Winston Churchill High School for the past four years. On June 7 she graduated, and will attend college in September. She has her choice of which college she will attend, Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont or Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland. Imagine that, five years ago she could not read or add and now she has a choice of colleges to attend.
The last eight weeks are a microcosm of her high school experience.
In late April she attended the Senior Banquet. The following weekend she flew to Fort Lauderdale, Florida where she spoke on 3 May at a S.A.F.E. conference on inclusion. After she presented she flew back to Washington to attend a dinner honoring all graduating seniors at her church. The following two weeks she was in the chorus in the high school Rock and Roll musical revue "Blast From the Past." She participated in three dress rehearsals and then six performances of "Blast." After the last performance she went to the cast party where the cast presented her an award as the most enthusiastic cast member. She returned home at 3:00 A.M.
At Awards Day on May 22nd she received an award as the senior who overcame the most obstacles. This prize also included a small cash award. On 23 May she left with the chorus on an overnight bus trip to Orlando, Florida to participate in a national music competition. After the competition she went with four of her typical peer friends to Universal Studios. The next day she went with them to Disney World before returning to Washington on another overnight bus trip.
On 31 May she attended the Senior Prom and after prom party. She had a great time and stayed at the party until it ended at 5:45 A.M. When her name was pulled from the hat as the winner of the 19 inch TV door prize all the students cheered. They could not have been happier if they had won the TV themselves. She got home at 6:00 A.M.
On 7 June Cecelia graduated from Churchill. Gov. Glendening was the commencement speaker and he ended his speech by congratulating the seniors for helping Cecelia succeed. He said, "I want to congratulate this class for saying to Cecelia, 'Come join us.' Thank you."
Yes Cecelia's I.Q. increased 25 points in the four years she was included. Yes she learned to read and do math. Yes she overcame some problem behaviors. Yes a student wrote about her as the person he admires most in the world. But to me the fact she was accepted and genuinely liked by all of the students and faculty at Churchill and had friends who wanted to be with her having fun is what inclusion is all about.
In mid June she visited Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont, met her suite mate, saw her dorm room, worked out her class schedule, looked at the aerobics room, tennis court etc. and decided she wanted to attend Trinity. She will live in the dormitory with supports from a residence assistant who will live in the same suite with her. She will be fully included in campus life and will have five classes, "Jobs: Getting and Keeping Them"; "Adult Living Skills"; "First Year Seminar" (required of all Freshmen); "Personal Computing Tools"; and "Writing, Language and Communication." She will also have a part time job.
After two weeks in each class Cecelia will meet with the professor and together they will decide what the requirements will be for her to successfully pass the course. She will not earn three credits per course, but will earn one point toward the 84 she will need to graduate. She will also earn one point for each ten hours of paid or volunteer work she performs. Is she excited? She is bubbling because she knows that she will continue the growth of the past four years. Also she knows that the whole world is about to open up to her. We are excited because we believe that when she graduates from Trinity she will be able to lead an independent or semi-independent life.
Is inclusion worth it? Absolutely.
Cecelia has Downs Syndrome, and Mr. Pauley worked hard to have her included at Churchill High School in Montgomery County, MD.