Inclusion Matters: Genuinely Beyond Assigned Seats in Classrooms [SOUTHCOAST VOICES]
THIS GUEST OPINION PIECE BY: Lisa Diogenes is a former Westport Elementary School Special Ed teacher and currently teaches third grade at Oakstead Elementary in Land O'Lakes, Florida.
“To know her is to love her.” This phrase rings true when I think about Brenna Legendre. I had been working for Westport Community Schools and was lucky enough to be the Special Education teacher for Brenna’s third grade school year. I’d be lying if I said we bonded right away.
However, we gave each other time to get to know one another and though there were some bumps and bruises (maybe even some tears) along the way, I knew we were meant to come into each other’s lives. I spent the better part of the morning working with Brenna in her ELA class. She loved the Go Fish sight word game and literally beat me EVERY time. She would work with me on writing stories about her favorite movie at the time, Descendants. We’d read short stories together and talk about them. Brenna amazed me with the way she could tell a story; her imagination is incredible.
I also spent the last part of the day with Brenna for her math block. We worked on adding and subtracting, fractions, multiplication, and division, telling time as well as area and perimeter. I used strategies and manipulatives that were of interest to her in order to make the work more enjoyable. Did it work? Sometimes, but not because she didn’t like my ideas but simply because she just didn’t feel like doing the work. Hey, we all feel that way at some point or another and Brenna was no different.
Sometimes, she would fight me tooth and nail and just downright refuse to do her work. And the faces she would make – priceless!! But I felt we had a way of getting things done. We would bargain. If she would do a problem, she could earn some M&Ms or Swedish Fish (don’t be fooled, I benefited from the treats, too) or I would let her wear my scarf or Fitbit. Maybe she earned a walk to Mrs. Pontes’ room to pick out some books that she could bring back to class. Or maybe it was a trip to the office to see Mrs. Amaral’s long, sparkly nails.
Now don’t get me wrong, this was not an everyday occurrence but sometimes you just need a little motivation. Brenna is quite the social butterfly and loves interacting with just about everyone so trips to visit someone outside of the classroom were a nice treat. She has confidence like I’ve never seen and quite frankly, I wish I had half as much confidence as she has.
What I truly enjoyed seeing over my time with Brenna was the way she shined at school and how she truly was “included” and accepted by her peers. Not because she was in an inclusion classroom but simply because she is who she is: Brenna.
Though I moved to Florida once my schoolyear with Brenna was over, I continue to stay in touch with Brenna and her mom, Kim. After my year with Brenna, I can say inclusion matters most for a few reasons. First of all, the pure joy on Brenna’s face simply coming into school and seeing her friends. Secondly, because she has friends that love and accept her not because they were told to but because they genuinely love her. We all have our struggles and I’ve always taught my students that everyone is different but that’s what makes us so interesting. Wouldn’t life be boring if we were all the same?
It’s so important for everyone to see the uniqueness in one another, learn from one another and include one another...because we all deserve the opportunity to be included and I am SO thankful that I was “included” to be on Team Brenna!
Editor's Note: 'SouthCoast Voices' is a series of guest opinions from newsmakers and other people across the region, on relevant issues that directly impact the people of Greater New Bedford and the surrounding communities. The opinions are solely those of the author. If you are interested in contributing, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.