Project Unify has been live at Washington Woods Middle School in Holt, Michigan since September. We started with our ten youth activation committee General Education students partnering with ten Special Education students. Almost immediately we noticed a difference in the culture of our building. General Education students were inviting special education students to sit by them at lunch. When it was time to pick teams in Gym class, the Special Education students were no longer the last students picked. One of our general education students was even invited to a birthday party where the rest of the attendants had downs syndrome!
Since September, we’ve had several general education students approach us to become involved with Project Unify. For the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, we created a video and invited any student who wanted to become involved to participate. One of our cognitively impaired students, Melanie, paired up with Emma, a student from our General Education student body. They worked on their video clip together – organizing and collecting props, deciding on what to wear, and practicing. They began sitting together at lunch, exchanged phone numbers, and played together at recess. Then last week, Melanie announced to us that she and Emma were planning a sleepover.
“In almost thirty years of teaching, I have never known a sleepover to happen between a General Education student and a Special Education student.” Valerie Suszko, Special Education teacher.
When we spoke with Melanie’s mother, she admitted to being nervous about letting Melanie go to the sleepover. She had never met Emma’s parents. Most children become friends through interactions at school, through sports, or other activities, so it’s really not surprising that these sleepovers don’t happen often. Although we have been practicing inclusion in our building for years, Project Unify has given us the resources to take a hard look at facilitating relationships.
About Renee Fluke: para-educator for Holt Public Schools