November’s Advo-KIT of the Month is…

…Kimberly Brown, Associate Executive Director of Kids’ Country, located in Danville, CA! We are so thrilled to share Kimberly’s interview with all of you. Enjoy!

When were you first introduced to inclusion? Why did you choose to become a champion for inclusion? *

I was introduced to inclusion when I was a little girl through my cousin who has cerebral palsy. As children, we created games that he could actively participate in, despite being paralyzed from the neck down. He would get a huge smile on his face, and his eyes would light up when he was included. He was empowered through our play. This powerful feeling he expressed will always be etched in my heart. I am champion of inclusion because I believe all children need to experience this joy.

What do you love about inclusion?

I love the philosophy of inclusion because each child is valued for who they are and are recognized for their own special gifts. The focus is not on their physical or mental limitations, but on making accommodations to best support each individual’s needs.

What is your vision for an inclusive world?

My vision for an inclusive world is for all people to be embraced for who they are, instead of being judged for what they are not.

Did you overcome a barrier or roadblock regarding exclusion/inclusion?

The biggest road block has been educating some teachers that when you make an accommodation for certain children, you are not spoiling them or giving them preferential treatment, but rather fulfilling their needs.

What is one of your most memorable inclusion experiences?

One of my most memorable inclusive experiences was when I got a call from a Site Director who wanted to terminate a child who was throwing tantrums, hurting other children, and was defiant to the staff. Instead of making this decision, we took a different approach. Through careful observations and open minds, we began to unravel the mystery of why the child was behaving this way. Staff began to focus on the antecedent and develop strategies to support the child. Two years later, the child is thriving in our program.

KimberlyAdvoKITWhat is your top tip that you would give to someone working with children?

Make it your quest as an educator to take the time to figure out each child and discover what they need. It is important for staff and parents to collaborate and problem solve together. Look at the complete picture to support the child to figure out what they need: the environment,the routine, and the adult/child interactions.

–Written by Kimberly Brown, Associate Executive Director of Kids’ Country. Edited by KIT Staff.

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

“Normal… Is a Dryer Setting”

My most recent hobby has been binge-watching TED talks. I could sit for hours and watch talk after talk. For those of you who have not seen many TED talks, I suggest you start. They are short (fifteen minutes or so) videos of people sharing their passions, and they are really inspiring! I’ve learned so much, and I’m excited to continue learning! In fact, KIT’s CEO, Torrie Dunlap, was recently invited to present a TED talk of her own. Once that’s released, we’ll be sure to share it here!

Last week, I came across a TED talk titled “Normal… is a Dryer Setting,” and I have been so eager to share it with you. Debra Jenkins, the presenter, is the director of a dance program for children with special needs in Huntsville, Alabama. Although her version of inclusion is not exactly what we typically do at KIT, inclusion in her own life is what has driven her work. I was so moved by her experience that I wanted each of you to hear it (well, read about it), too!

Debra started her program out of a performing arts center called Merrimack Hall. She says she felt a “tap on her shoulder” when she saw a news story about a physical therapist using dance to help students with disabilities. She wanted to do the same thing at her studio, but people told her she was not qualified because she did not work with, or even know, any children with special needs. After seven years of building her program, she now reflects on a conversation she had with one of the dancers in her class: “’Everybody has special needs. And we all have two special needs in common.’ She said, ‘We all have the special need to be loved, and we all have the special need to be accepted.’” This young girl’s revelation really stuck with me. It’s true, and it’s why inclusion can be so effective. It is not just children with disabilities who have a need to be loved and accepted; that desire is in each and every one of us. Since inclusive programs tend to be less competitive and instead celebrate differences and unique talents, inclusion helps all of us feel like we are accepted.

Debra later explains that not only do we all have the needs to be loved and accepted in common, but we all have individual special needs as well. Even though some of us may have needs that are not as easily seen as others’ special needs, we all have our own challenges. “Our special needs are going to manifest themselves in different ways in each one of us…You make no mistake. If you’re a human, you have special needs.” Debra tells us that even though we don’t all have a visibly recognizable disability, we all have difficulties. We all face obstacles. We all have needs, and that’s okay.

The end of Debra’s TED talk is a discussion of what normal really is:

The hundreds of people with special needs who come to Merrimack Hall every week are routinely marginalized and left out because our society says that they’re not normal. Well, you tell me—who is normal? What is normal? These are the people who have shown me that we are all more alike than we are different, and that there’s absolutely no such thing as normal. There’s only one place in this whole world you’re going to find normal, and that’s in your laundry room on the dials of your dryer, because normal… it’s a dryer setting.

My favorite part of inclusion is that it redefines normal. In fact, it throws the word normal out the window. Instead of expecting everyone to fit into one mold, inclusion builds our ability to recognize and celebrate each other’s differences, teaching kids to devalue “normal” and instead seek out diversity. As you work on expanding your inclusive experiences, programs, or knowledge of differences, keep this in mind. Normal is not what we strive for. Diversity, learning from each other’s differences, true inclusion… these are our true end goals.

–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor

Check out Debra’s TED Talk here! We will be featuring Debra herself in a few weeks on our blog. Keep your eye out for her original post on Merrimack Hall’s version of inclusion.

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

Can We Teach Our Kids To Stop Staring?

This week, we feature Jen Lee Reeves, founder and writer of Born Just Right, a blog about her daughter, Jordan, who has a limb difference. We were so touched by her post about staring that we wanted to share it here! Thank you, Jen, for letting us share it! We hope this will encourage conversation about teaching kids to respect differences and ask questions if they are curious.

Seriously.

Can we raise children who choose to ask questions and speak directly to people who look or act differently? Can we have open conversations with our children to discuss why it can be so painful to whisper and point at people who are different or act differently?

I’m so tired of it.

Jordan’s tired of it.

Jordan is a rock star. She rolls with so many punches. But even she hits her limits with staring and questions. This week, she’s had enough of it all. This is a lifelong process for her. I know Jordan has to go through some really tough emotions and decide when she’s ready to just ignore the looks and whispers. But now is not the time. In the meantime, can we all just get over it?

People are different. And all parents need to celebrate and recognize differences are cool and not scary. They are worth talking about and not whispering.

Why do I feel like the only parent teaching this lesson? (I know I’m not. I’m just in a mood.) Where is the text book we all need to read to help us raise our kids to be kind and understanding people?

Jordan_BornJustRight

Jordan was feeling a bit unsure before her new dance class.

Jordan started a new dance class this week. For the first time in years, she’s in a class with boys. During the first class, the boys spent a good portion of the time whispering and staring at Jordan. I asked her why she didn’t confront them. She explained it felt embarrassing and she feels stronger when there’s another friend with her when she needs to confront staring.

Holding my crying little (but not so little) girl in my arms hurts my heart. This sucks. We all know it sucks. But this was the moment when I realized Jordan might be ready to take the staring monkey off her back. It was a discovery that took time for me to understand.

When Jordan was a baby, I used to look everywhere to find the people staring and whispering when we’d get out of the house. I wanted to catch those staring violators in the act and teach them a lesson. Or I just let anger build up inside of me. But around the time she was three or four months old, I realized I had a choice to get worked up by the looks and stares or I could choose to live my life with my beautiful family. I had a chance to teach those staring people a lesson by showing them how a limb difference doesn’t stop our family from being a typical family. Jordan is living a typical life with a non-typical arm. If you look at the big picture, there is NOTHING wrong with her, except she doesn’t fit the mold of a typical human shape. I decided that some of those people staring can learn that big picture just by watching us carrying on our lives. If they don’t learn that lesson, then it’s too bad for them.

I realize I need to empower Jordan and probably her friends at the same time to just let the staring go. Don’t seek it out. Don’t hunt down the points and whispers. But if the staring become obscene or obvious, it’s up to her to decide if she wants to call them out. If she’s feeling uncomfortable, I hope we can help her find solutions that she doesn’t find embarrassing.

Our temporary solution? I think we might create a new shirt to wear at dance class that says: “DON’T STARE, JUST ASK.” It will be a weekend project. And the idea brought a smile back to my girl’s face.

While we work on a new t-shirt to deal with staring, could you take a moment to tell your kids why it’s SO much better to ask questions instead of stare? Taking the time to mention its importance can help generations of adults and children who live proudly with a difference. They’re all TIRED of it. All it takes is you. Please, I beg of you. Please bring this topic up in a conversation. You are my only hope.

–Written by Jen Lee Reeves, Founder and Writer of Born Just Right

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

Vote for Ezra!

This week, we received a message from a proud mom. Her 9-year-old son, Ezra, has been selected as a finalist for Sports Illustrated SportsKid of the Year. Of the six finalists, he is the only athlete with a physical disability. Ezra has set seven national track and field records, is a great basketball and football player, skateboards, plays guitar and writes music. He also recently earned his blue belt in karate. We have an amazing opportunity to highlight the capabilities of athletes with disabilities like Ezra on a national stage. We want to spread the word that kids with disabilities can still participate in any way they want to! Check out the essay below, written by Ezra for his nomination for SportsKid of the Year! Vote for him here.

Me
By: Ezra Frech

I was born with physical differences, missing four fingers on my left hand and missing my left knee and left fibula. When I was two and a half years old I had a 15 hour surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital to amputate the twisted lower part of my left leg that would never have worked properly. During this surgery, the doctors also transplanted the big toe from my amputated foot to my left hand to help me pick up stuff with it. Two years after that I had another surgery to help my left hand work better. The surgeries were successful and now I can play and do sports and everything. I will admit that sometimes it’s hard being different. People stare at me wherever I go. Kids point and stare. I know it’s because they are curious and they don’t mean to be hurtful. But it’s exhausting having to answer questions about myself everywhere I go. Sometimes, especially when I was younger, I wished I was different and I was like other kids, but now I’m grateful for my differences and realize we are all different and bring special gifts to this world. I’ve learned to get through the hard times and move on.

ezra1I have loved sports since I was a baby. My favorite sports are basketball, soccer, football, swimming, skateboarding, and karate. I have played in lots of basketball leagues since the age of 5 and this summer I was the captain of my undefeated summer league team. This summer I also helped my dad coach my 5 year-old brother’s basketball team. I enjoyed working with the little guys and watching them improve during the season.

This Fall, I’m the starting QB for my school football team. I like football because I like to throw run, QB is fun because you get to make big plays and hit receivers on the run.

I started Karate a year ago and really enjoy the movements, discipline, and friendships at the dojo. I recently received my blue belt in Karate and I’m testing for blue green soon.

ezra4Last year I started competing in track and field and I flew with my dad to the Endeavor Games in Oklahoma City. This summer, I competed in the Dessert Challenge Games in Mesa, AZ and in the Junior National Disability Championships in Ames, Iowa. At the NJDC I set 7 national track and field records in the 60, 100, 400, long jump, shot put, discus, and javelin. I trained for 3 months straight every day with the best coach, Coach Asher from UCLA. Coach Asher had me do a college-level workout and, trust me, it was tough. My dad is now working on creating a Paralympic qualifying event in L.A. for kids, adults and veterans with physical disabilities.

In school, I excel at math, music and spelling. I was voted for student council in second grade. I usually get good scores on my tests and I hope to maintain the good grades, but oh boy, fourth grade is hard so far.

I also talk to kids about being different and saying that you can never give up. I have spoken to kids at public schools in Los Angeles and every year I speak to the kindergarten class at my school on who I am and what makes me different. I have presented to my grade and the entire lower school, including kids and parents, about my family history and about how I’m different and how we are all unique.

Every year my family, friends, and I go to a triathlon in San Diego that raises money for the Challenged Athletes Foundation. We are known as Team Ezra and have our own team of athlete-fundraisers and our own booth. Over the years we have raised over 300 thousand dollars for physically challenged kids and adults who need wheelchairs, prosthetic legs, or financial support so they can get into sports. Usually about 100 family members and friends join us and we have a blast with a rooftop party and then the next morning at 7am there is a triathlon for the adults. I usually attend a bunch of CAF events and compete in the kids fun run and also run a 5k. I love working with all the little kid amputees also. They are adorable and love to see us older kids and what we can do with our different legs. It’s nice for the young kids to see other kids like them.

Thank you for allowing me to share my story and for considering me for the Sports Illustrated Kid of the Year.

Good Bye,
Ezra Frech
9 Years Old

Like what you read? Vote for Ezra by Monday, October 13! If you’d like to learn more about Ezra, check out his Facebook page here and watch this video

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

The Word I Hate More Than Anything

There’s a word that makes my stomach drop, my fists clench, and my eyes sting. You probably guessed it…the “r-word.” I think often about the right way to teach kids about the meaning of that word and how to respond when I hear kids use it. In the majority of cases, whether it is used by an adult or a kid, it is not meant to hurt anyone’s feelings. But it still does.

As a special education teacher, I do my best to collaborate with the general education teachers so that my students can learn in inclusive settings whenever possible. The other day, in science class, one of the students who is typically-developing said, “That question is so easy…it’s retarded.” One of my students, who has a disability, was sitting right next to him. As usual, my stomach dropped, my fists clenched, and my eyes stung. My response to the student was, “We do not use that word in this classroom. It can hurt people’s feelings, and I do not want to hear you say it again.”

Later, I was talking to my team’s general education math teacher, and I told him about what happened. I said that while I know it was not meant maliciously, I was upset to have heard that word at all. I told him that we need to determine a way to talk to all of our students about what the r-word means. Even though it is not always meant to intentionally hurt others, it does. 

My co-teacher’s response shocked me. He declared that I can’t get so upset every time I hear that word. He said, “They’re only 12. There’s no way you can expect them to know any better. You need to just get over it.” I was absolutely speechless.

I agree that we can’t expect them to know what that word signifies, but that doesn’t excuse it. It is our job, our responsibility, to teach them what it signifies. As an advocate for my students, I have every right to be upset every time I hear the r-word. It is offensive, even when it is not said to offend.

In hindsight, I wish I had taken more time to explain to the student what the r-word really means, instead of just admonishing the student. My plan is to develop a school-wide lesson about the meaning of that word. I will ask my administration to send it out to all teachers and ask them to teach their students about why we should not use it. If we really want inclusion to work, we all need to advocate and care for every single child. If we do our jobs correctly, our students will all feel safe and welcome at school, like they are equally celebrated members of their school community.

–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Writer/Editor

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.