A Chance to Shine

Everyone deserves to be celebrated and have their moment in the spotlight. It happens more naturally for some than others. But when the “some” decides to help the “others,” the results are magical.

Our high school puts on a yearly musical. It is a highly anticipated event. Students audition, prepare and rehearse for months. All of their hard work culminates in a shining moment of performance.

Our high school also has a large group of students who receive special education services. For these students, who have a wide range of disabilities, participating in such a production is rare. They are often overlooked.

A common assumption is they are not interested or able to be involved in such events. Nothing could be further from the truth. When given the chance, it is their light that shines the brightest!

This past week, these students were provided that chance. A show created especially for them and by them, with the help of drama students.

The playbill listed the title of each act and the names of all participants. There was no distinction between drama students and students receiving special education services.

The acts were as diverse as the cast. Magic acts, singing groups, lip-sync, and comedy skits kept the audience engaged for over an hour. Their “Show of Shows” was a hit!

Big productions typically have a grand finale. These precious students decided the best way to end their show was to include the audience. It was entitled Dance Party!

The entire audience jumped to their feet and rushed the stage. A grande finale filled with hugs, smiles, tears, and of course, dancing! Precious students who are often left out were congratulated and celebrated! And their smiles? Contagious! The joy in the air, almost tangible.

Weeks of planning, practicing and making new friends resulted in a funny and heartwarming show which cast and audience members will not soon forget. A show which may just change the hearts of all involved forever. One group because they were willing to share the spotlight. The other because they were given a chance to shine.

Side note: This production raised around $1,800 to benefit Special Olympics.

Full Circle

I’m not sure the exact time, place, or person that sparked Rachel’s passion for individuals with special needs. Perhaps it was noticing kids at school. Or maybe getting to know her friend, Chandler. More importantly, that spark continued to grow.

During junior-high, Rachel served as a peer tutor in special education classes. It was also at this time, she and I worked to develop a “Parent’s Night Out” ministry at our church for families of children with special needs. She also began volunteering in weekly Sunday classes and summer camps for individuals with special needs.

Rachel chose service-learning as one of her high school classes. This program allows students to spend time working in an area they are interested in for their career. She spent time each day working in the special education classrooms.

Even during these early experiences, I was amazed at Rachel’s ability to truly be a friend to all who crossed her path. No matter their ability to communicate, she spoke to them as she would to anyone else. She even reminded me on a few occasions that certain individuals were not little kids and should not be spoken to in that manner. 😉

When it came time for college, there was no doubt about her course of study. She would get a degree in special education. She even talked about how her dream job would be to come back to her own school and teach. Teach in those classes where she spent so many hours as a student mentor.

Her college years flew by. And now she is in her first year of teaching. And where is she working? The high school where she graduated. Those same rooms she spent hours in as a student.

Her very own classroom. ❤

Last week I was finally able to see her in action. She is right where she planned to be. Right where she is supposed to be. Teaching young adults who are often overlooked and ignored. Treating them with respect and dignity. Pouring into their lives daily.

Watching my daughter as the teacher? There are not enough words. It is like a beautiful full circle. No beginning or ending. No limits on where she can go or what she will do.

A Happy Reunion

I love reunions. They allow time to reminisce and strengthen already established relationships. Seeing family and friends after time apart can be refreshing. Sometimes I even walk away with new friends.

This week I had one such reunion.

My daughter, Rachel, is a first-year special education teacher at our district’s high school. Several of my former elementary students are now her students. I love hearing her talk about them each day after school. It is nice to have a way to reconnect, even if it’s not in person.

This week I had an opportunity to visit Rachel at work. I was looking forward to seeing her in action and actually visiting with some of these now teenagers. It has been six years or more since I was their teacher. Even though excited, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

When I arrived, they were all in the gym for P.E. I immediately recognized those familiar faces. One precious girl came running towards me. She hugged me and buried her head in my shoulder.

No words. ❤

Our conversation went something like this.

“Oh, Mrs. Morris. I missed you so much!”
“I missed you, too! You look so grown-up and pretty!”
“I think I’m going to cry.”

This precious girl had no idea of the impact of her reaction. I held back my tears.

I was quickly swept away to greet other old friends and meet some new ones. Several students walked right up, shook my hand, and introduced themselves. One took my hand and gently placed it on her face. Another held both my hands and touched his forehead to mine. And yet another asked me my name using sign language.

Each greeting was individual and personal. Each communicated, “I see you. I’m glad you’re here. I want to know you.” I know the words may not have been spoken, but the messages were clear.

Not only did I reconnect with former students, I instantly gained new friends. Their capacity to love and accept everyone is beyond limits. There are no outsiders.

This short visit left me with a thankful heart. Thankful not only for this happy reunion but also for the chance to witness my daughter as a teacher.

But that’s a story for another day…

Brave Little Firecracker

What does it truly mean to be brave? I’m not sure I’ve had many instances deserving of that description. But the other night I witnessed one.

The scene was a Fourth of July celebration with family. My niece, Bethany, was afraid of the upcoming fireworks. She does not like loud noises. Her sweet sister, Bailey, brought some earphones in her backpack and offered them to help.

Sweet, helpful sister, Bailey. 🙂

As darkness approached, Bethany was getting more anxious. If she had it her way, she would go wait in the car until it was over. This had apparently been her routine in the past.

It is amazing what steady encouragement can accomplish. With a bit of coaxing, Bethany sat between her Nana and Papa, each of them holding a hand. They spoke calmly but with firm assurance. “You can do this.” “It’s ok.” “Look at the pretty colors.”

Their patience paid off. After the first several fireworks lit up the sky, she was watching! Not only watching but also smiling. At first thought, this may not seem to fit the picture of bravery. Not without understanding a little more about Bethany.

Bethany, now twelve, was born prematurely. She weighed 1 lb, 5 1/2 oz and was 12 in long. I will never forget seeing her for the first time. Her tiny foot was smaller than my thumb. She spent many months in the NICU, her future uncertain.

Baby Bethany~so tiny!

Due to a variety of health issues, Bethany has developmental delays. She has learned to read, loves to work puzzles, enjoys playing with friends, and continues to overcome obstacles.

Remembering her tiny beginning brings a different perspective to this question of bravery. Watching fireworks may seem a small thing to most. But for Bethany, it was about overcoming fear. I believe she deserves the title, Brave Little Firecracker!

Fourth of July! ❤️💙

School Year Successes

Reflections often bring mixed emotions. Whether it’s looking in the mirror or taking stock of an entire year of teaching, there are always things I wish I could change. For this end-of-the-year review, however, I’ve decided to focus on the positive.

One of my main goals this year was making sure all students who entered the music room were able to participate on some level. In particular, I wanted to connect more with our friends receiving special education services. Professional development early in the year was both challenging and encouraging, and it reminded me of the importance of these connections.

So here are my top three successes:

  • A smile
  • A high-five
  • A music stamp on a hand

All three involved the same child. A child who would not come into my classroom last year and this year spent most of his time sitting at the back. I intentionally approached him slowly and quietly, and he eventually smiled. When I got my first high-five, there were definitely tears. And allowing me to put a music stamp on his hand? That was a big step!

Did he sing or play an instrument? No. However, he listened, sometimes colored, and participated in his own way. He let me enter his world for tiny little snippets of time. And for that, I am grateful.

My Girl

My Rachel is the perfect combination of sassy and sweet. Big blue eyes, tight ringlet curls, her looks, and style are a classic beauty. She sets goals, lays out a plan, and the rest is history.

Rachel practiced being a teacher when she was little. Her room transformed into a classroom with stuffed animals and dolls, a whiteboard, notebooks with lesson plans and assignments. How many kids ask for a whiteboard and markers for Christmas?

During junior high, she worked as a peer tutor in special education classes. For her, it was more than simply being helpful or nice to her peers who were different. She made connections, treated them as friends, sat with them at lunch.

This continued throughout high school. Proms were happily spent with her special friends. Summer camp meant being a buddy to a friend who otherwise would not have a camp experience. Friday nights were often spent volunteering at a respite night for parents of children with special needs. This was the high school life she chose.

When it was time for college, there was no doubt as to her career path-special education. Ultimately, she wanted to be a teacher in the district from which she graduated. The place that allowed her so much experience in the field she loved.

I am so proud of my girl. Tonight, she graduates from Northeastern State University with a degree in special education. She begins her teaching career next year at her alma mater, Union Public Schools, teaching secondary special education.

Rachel is already dreaming, thinking, planning for her future students. Wondering who they will be and what she will need to reach them. Her bedroom is lined with containers filled with supplies, fidgets, thinking putty. She knows this is not an easy path. But she embraces it with courage, excitement, and hope.

I’m looking forward to helping her set up her first classroom. I can’t wait to hear her stories. No doubt she will have an impact on the lives of her students, and they on hers. Get ready world, my girl is beautiful, determined, and strong. Here she comes! ❤

Friendship=Success

My classroom is a big open space. Perfect for music! I created smaller areas within this large space using sit spots. A big circle, visible right as students enter. We use this space for movement activities, games, drum circles, etc. A rainbow row of dots in front of the Smartboard. These create rows where students have their own music spot to sit.

We often move from one area to the other multiple times in one class period. This was true Wednesday during first grade. As students began to transition from our circle to their music spots, I noticed one precious girl assisting a friend. She was speaking calmly and sweetly to her friend. Both of them smiling, holding hands.

I was just about to remind this helpful girl about the location of her music spot. After all, she was heading in the wrong direction. Thankfully, I did not say anything. An interruption would have been sad. The friend she was helping is a sweet boy who happens to have Down syndrome.

We have some awesome paras in our building. They attend specials with specific groups of students. Because of their disabilities, these friends just need a little extra guidance to have a positive experience in class. These ladies provide invaluable assistance which makes that possible.

Although success in regular education settings is an important goal, how much more valuable is gaining a friend? For a friend can help us in ways no one else can. A friend is something we all need. Some might even say having a friend is a success.

This week I witnessed a sweet new friendship. I hope it continues to grow. I hope to encourage many more.