Teen Goes From Special Ed To Valedictorian

For Chance Mair, sometimes emotions are hard to express.

And it was certainly an emotional night in suburban Seattle at Marysville Arts and Technology High School’s graduation earlier this week, where the students filed into the auditorium in black gowns and royal-blue stoles.

Not only was Mair graduating with the 50 seniors in his class, he was the class valedictorian. And he would be giving the valedictorian address, a momentous occasion for a student who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at an early age.

Mair had never told most of his classmates he has Asperger’s. Never told them he had started his schooling in a special education classroom, or that he received social therapy treatment when he was younger.

“It’s one of those things that for the longest time I didn’t want to tell people,” he said earlier in the day. “But now that I’m graduating, I don’t want to hold it back. I want people to know me for who I really am.”

Growing up in Marysville, Wash. Mair spent his childhood learning how to overcome sensory struggles that come naturally to other children.

Having Asperger’s meant he didn’t talk much, and he had difficulties understanding the nuances in body language. He was overly sensitive to loud noises and strong flavors. His parents recount stories where he would struggle to tell his peers he wanted to play with them, standing quietly by their side.

“I can know that I need to say something and I can feel the confidence to say it when I’m playing it out,” he said. “But then when I get to that step where I actually have to do it, like the execution, that’s when I tense up and get really nervous, really scared.

“Sometimes it’s not even a shyness, sometimes it’s like a fear, a fear of socialness.”

His parents knew his success depended on finding a place where he could build his social skills — and have fun doing it, too.

One way he did that was through bowling. He became fascinated with the sport when he was about 5 years old, playing with different teams in bowling alleys around the Marysville area.

“Diversity is one of the reasons I like it. There’s no one kind of person, there’s no one way you can bowl,” he said. “There are so many possibilities, I guess.” Continue reading Teen Goes From Special Ed To Valedictorian

Students with Disabilities have Room on the Bench in NY

NEW YORK (JTA) — Standing in the back of an open elementary school classroom at the Luria Academy, a Jewish Montessori school in Brooklyn, Dana Keil asks in a whisper if a visitor can tell which children in the room have special needs.

I guarantee you won’t be able to tell,” she said.

And she’s right.

Yet Keil, 25, estimated that nearly half the children in the room have some type of disability that requires what’s called an “individualized education program,” or IEP.

As the director of special education and support services at the Prospect Heights academy, Keil is a strong advocate of including all types of children, including those with disabilities, into the same classroom.

Last September, she earned a $100,000 fellowship from the Joshua Venture Group, a Jewish nonprofit, to start Room on the Bench. Through the Luria-based initiative, Keil is beginning to council other Jewish community schools in the New York City area on how to implement inclusion models.

“Even though the Jewish community has been progressive for centuries, this is one area where we are honestly very far behind,” Keil said.

Inclusion is standard practice in public schools thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act passed in 1990. The federal statute mandates that a child with a disability cannot be placed in a separate classroom unless the severity of the disability precludes learning in a normal classroom. However, the law does not apply to private schools, and some disability advocates say that the Jewish community has not done enough to make children with disabilities, and their families, feel welcome in its day schools.

Keil said that many Jewish day schools do not accept applicants who have any kind of IEP, even if their disabilities are purely physical and not intellectual. Although an IEP can be prescribed for an incredibly wide range of disabilities, from spina bifida to an autism spectrum disorder, Keil said that most Jewish day school administrators “see an IEP as an IEP instead of looking at the individual child.”

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NYT: Balancing Special-Education Needs With Rising Costs

Dylan B. Randall could not speak or stand. He never tasted food because he was fed through a gastric tube in his belly. He breathed through a ventilator; his own saliva would choke him unless a nurse cleared his throat every few minutes.

It was a daily struggle to keep Dylan alive, much less educate him. And when his public school could not deliver all the daily therapy the then 5-year-old was supposed to receive, his parents asked that New York City pay for what they believed was the kind of education Dylan needed: a private school for disabled children.

Rather than pay, however, the city decided to fight. For several months, the Randalls and their lawyers battled with city lawyers, until Nov. 18, when a hearing officer ruled in the family’s favor. Not only did the boy deserve placement in a private school, the hearing officer, Diane R. Cohen, said, but he was also owed hundreds of therapy sessions that the city had failed to deliver during his kindergarten year. “For a student who is unable to ambulate on his own and is dependent on the provision of therapies for every aspect of life’s functions, the failure to consistently provide related services is a serious impediment to the student’s well-being,” Ms. Cohen wrote.

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WashPost: States’ special education services face tighter oversight by the Obama administration

The Obama administration is tightening its oversight of the way states educate special-needs students, applying more- stringent criteria that drop the number of jurisdictions in compliance with federal law from 38 to 15.

Under the new criteria, Maryland is among the states that no longer meet federal requirements, joining the District, which has been out of compliance for the past eight years. Virginia meets the demands of federal law under the new rules.

Congress has guaranteed severely disabled students the right to a “free and appropriate” education since 1975. The 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to meet the educational needs of students with disabilities, an estimated 7 million students.

The federal Education Department distributes $11.5 billion annually to states to help pay for special education and monitors their performance.

Until now, the agency considered whether states evaluated students for special needs in a timely manner, whether they reported information to the federal government and met other procedural benchmarks.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday that his department for the first time will also consider outcomes: How well special-education students score on standardized tests, the gap in test scores between students with and without disabilities, the high school graduation rate for disabled students and other measures of achievement.

“Every child, regardless of income, race, background, or disability, can succeed if provided the opportunity to learn,” Duncan told reporters. “We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to the general curriculum in the regular classroom, they excel.”

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WashPost: Autistic student who graduated top of class shares valedictory speech

Unable to communicate at the age of 3, Montel Medley was diagnosed with autism.

With support from his mother, Roberta, and his teachers in Prince George’s County, Montel went on to earn a 4.0 grade point average at Surrattsville High School, graduated at the top of his class and gained acceptance to Towson University.

“Having a disability doesn’t mean you have a disadvantage,” Montel said during his valedictory speech. “Sometimes it can be an advantage.”

Here is the full speech Montel gave as valedictorian of Surrattsville High:

Good Morning distinguished guests, faculty, staff, family, friends and most importantly, CLASS OF 2014!! I am Montel Medley and I am proud to be your valedictorian. My fellow classmates, we finally made it, so give yourself a round of applause.

We had a lot of distractions, but we managed to deal with them. As we graduate from high school, we know it is a new chapter because we get to step into the world, no more living inside a vacuum with our parents. We must leave our comfort zone and step into the light!

Going to high school was a serious transition for me. But each year, I became more mature and disciplined. In my freshman year, I was a bit nervous. You see, in middle school, I didn’t make a lot of friends because I had autism. Autism made it hard for me to interact with others, so I isolated myself.

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WPOST: Shari Gelman, who started Ivymount School for children with disabilities, dies at 88

 By Megan McDonough, Published: April 29

Early in her teaching career, Shari Gelman was asked to work as a substitute at a Montgomery County preschool for children with developmental, intellectual and cognitive disabilities. She was nervous, she recalled, and told the director she had no experience with special-needs kids.

“Hey, they are children,” the director said. Mrs. Gelman soon reported for work.

“I went in, and the first day I was there I was absolutely blown away,” she once told an interviewer. “There were several children with autism — although we were not calling it this very often at that time — and a couple with Down syndrome and a mixture of disabilities. I came home, and I was devastated in terms of how parents handled this at home and how difficult it must be.”

At the time, there was a lack of such programs in the public school system — and almost none that offered learning opportunities for children who had multiple disabilities. It would be at least 20 years before federal law required schools to provide appropriate special education and related services for children with disabilities.

For Mrs. Gelman, who died Tuesday at age 88, working at the nursery school was the spark that led her to start what is now the Ivymount School, one of the earliest and best-regarded Washington area educational centers for students with complex learning, language, physical or emotional disabilities.

Mrs. Gelman started the school in 1961 in the educational building at Christ Lutheran Church in Bethesda. She called it the Christ Church Child Center, and she was the sole staff member, serving in a dual role as teacher and director. There was one student and his educational aide.

Under her direction, the school gradually enlisted a wide array of specialists, including behavioral, language, art, music and dance specialists, to meet the complex needs of its students.

“Kids could get everything in one place, including speech, occupational and physical therapy,” Lillian Davis, the school’s former assistant director, said in an interview with The Washington Post.

“If there was a group that didn’t have their needs being met, that is where we could really be of service,” Mrs. Gelman said in a 2010 history of the school.

Over time, local public school systems began referring special-needs students to Christ Church Child Center. To meet the increasing demand, the school had to borrow space from several other Montgomery County churches before the program was consolidated into one building and given a permanent home at the old Georgetown Hill Elementary School site in Rockville in 1985. It was renamed Ivymount.

“I always thought we were on the cutting edge. Lots of times we would originate programs that did not exist and I think other places were playing catchup,” Mrs. Gelman said in the school history. “Many times, I think we were one of the first to develop these kinds of programs.”

The school expanded its programming to meet the constantly changing needs of its growing student population and eventually increased the student age limit from 12 to 21.

“The teachers here look at the children as individuals,” Dorothy Burger, a mother of a student at the school, once told The Post. “They make the program work for the child rather than have the child fit into the program.”

By the time Mrs. Gelman retired in 1997, the school had grown to 140 students and more than 100 staff members. More than 1,500 students have graduated from Ivymount since its establishment.

The school twice received the Blue Ribbon, the highest academic honor the U.S. Department of Education can bestow on a school. Mrs. Gelman also received The Post’s Distinguished Education Leadership Award in 1991.

“Shari was one of the most empathetic people I have ever met. She would feel what the kids were feeling and what the parents were feeling,” Davis told The Post in a recent interview. “I don’t think she ever met a kid she didn’t like and couldn’t help.”

Shari Miriam Einfrank was born Dec. 30, 1925, in Passaic, N.J. She was a 1947 graduate of New Jersey State Teachers College at Jersey City, now New Jersey City University. In 1957, she received a master’s degree in human development from the University of Maryland.

She served on the board of the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes and numerous summer programs and recreational programs for children with disabilities. She chaired the special needs committee of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville and was a member of the Advisory Board of Potomac Community Resources.

Her husband of 66 years, Robert Gelman, died in 2013. Survivors include two children, Ona Bunce of Bethesda and Morris Gelman of Falls Church; and two grandsons.

Mrs. Gelman, a longtime Bethesda resident, died at a continuing care center in Bethesda of complications of lymphoma, said her daughter.

Her impressions the first day of substitute teaching would stay with her and motivate her career educating students with disabilities. As she recalled in 2010, “I woke up the next day, and said, ‘If I’m not going to do it, who is going to do it?’ ”

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From their website: “We Connect Now is dedicated to uniting people interested in rights and issues affecting people with disabilities, with particular emphasis on college students and access to higher education and employment issues.

One of the goals of this site is to help college students with disabilities to succeed in their studies by getting the information and support they need, both through resources, linksblogs, latest news, studying existing laws and regulation and through personal contacts.

Through this website people can also share and read other people’s stories as a source of support and comfort. We also want people using our webpage to take action by writing blogs, hosting an event or becoming involved in politics by knowing about upcoming legislation.  

Also, every month our webpage will focus on a particular disability or condition to bring our visitors more information and support related to our focus of the month. Through our jobs section, we also hope to help empower people with disabilities find employment through job posting and job searching tips, and  if people have any questions we encourage them to contact us. The goal of this site is that people leave it having gained knowledge, a support system and having taken action. “

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Spread the Word to End the R Word

The Mason LIFE Program is an innovative post-secondary program for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who desire a university experience in a supportive academic environment.

For this video External Link to For this video (New Window), Mason LIFE students came together to Spread the Word to End the Word as part of a larger R-word campaign supported by Special Olympics, Best Buddies, and over 200 other organizations around the world. The annual day of awareness, this year on March 5, 2014, shows how the word “retarded” is no longer just used as a medical term to describe people with intellectual and physical disabilities; it has turned into a word used carelessly as a synonym for dumb, silly, stupid, and other hurtful terms.

The video and campaign asks people to pledge to stop saying the R-word as a starting point toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people. Language affects attitudes and attitudes affect actions. You can pledge today External Link to pledge today (New Window) to use respectful, people-first language.

The Mason LIFE program is supported by the Helen A. Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities within the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University. The college embraces the principles of equity and access to all opportunities in society by increasing student diversity and accommodations for people with disabilities. In addition, the program provides George Mason University students majoring in therapeutic recreation, education, psychology, assistive technology, social work, and other human service studies with hand-on experience and training.

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