by Dr. Michelle CarneyRay-Yoder
As we head into April which is officially designated Autism Awareness month, it is important to remember how we include all students in our Jostens Renaissance programs. When listening to the Jostens Renaissance Anthem, there is a section that stands out for all special educators:
“We shine a spotlight on each other
To be the best we can be
Our school is more than just a building
It’s a true community.”
The spirit of these words could not be more true as to how we should approach the inclusion of our special needs students in our Jostens Renaissance program, every day. Our schools need to be a place where all students feel safe and a part of their school community.
The ultimate premise of Jostens Renaissance is to recognize not only the top or bottom ten percent in your schools, but the middle 80%, as well. This is where the majority of our special needs students fall, and in traditional schools where climate and culture is not a focus, they are among the unfortunate students who fall through the cracks.
When planning your Jostens Renaissance programs, whether from scratch or an existing program trying to expand to be more inclusive, special needs students are a group that is prime for involvement and engagement. Survey this group, ask them how they would like to be involved and what they would like to do as part of your program. Offer your special needs students the opportunity to have their voices heard.
When our students were asked what they liked about our programs and how we could make different activities better for them, they offered options like:
● Low-sensory Pep Rallies – Pep rallies that were smaller in size and not so loud, so they could participate and keep over-stimulation to a minimum.
● Special Proms and Dances – So students could participate with their peer group and not be so overwhelmed by a large number of students and the noise that goes along with it. (The photo above was taken at the Special Needs Prom at Portland High School; click here to view the heartwarming video about the prom.)
● Customized Reward Systems – Rewards where students can work towards an individual behavior or academic goals that is specific to them (or their Individualized Education Plans)
● Inclusion in Jostens Renaissance Teams who plan for special events or creating their own group to help, within their comfort zone.
● Renaissance Businesses – An example of this is our middle school “SuperPop” program in Mrs. Brannigan and Mrs. Loefflad’s class, where students market and prepare popcorn packages weekly and donate the proceeds to special groups, such as Renaissance. Next year they will be running a school store to support philanthropies at Jordan Road Middle School.
These are just a few ideas to get you started and the ideals to make a permanent culture of inclusion in all aspects of our school community. Ask your special needs students what they want for rewards and how they want to participate. This awesome group will want to be a part of your program and can become your biggest ROCK STARS! Seeing them included, successful, and accepted by their general education peers will make your program grow exponentially! Don’t be afraid to light that spark!