Inclusion and Why it is Valuable in School, By Lindsey Eaton

As a recent graduate of Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Arizona, I can honestly go on and on about how inclusive Chaparral is towards students with disabilities.  Throughout my five years of high school, I was able to vote for school’s Homecoming King and Queen, attend the Arizona DECA Fall Leadership Conference with Chaparral High School’s DECA chapter, guest star on the school announcements and try out Improv during Theatre 1 class.  I often had teachers and students alike say hi to me when I walked around the campus.  I really do credit our Best Buddies chapter and the school’s administration team for helping make the campus more inclusive towards students with disabilities. I often sat with my peer buddies at lunch or during school-wide assemblies and they made EVERY effort to introduce me to their friends and teachers.  In the end, I became a CELEBRITY within Chaparral.

Below are some suggestions of ways for schools to become more inclusive towards people of all abilities:

1. Create a peer leadership class to encourage students of all abilities to be friends

Across Arizona and in other states, many schools have Peer Leadership classes that encourage friendships among students of all abilities.  In the Scottsdale Unified Scottsdale District, many of the high schools offer a class that allows students without disabilities to go into a special education classroom and interact with the students who have disabilities by helping them with everyday tasks. I was a peer leader for two years and can honestly say the class shaped my life for the better. Through that class, I gained lasting friendships with my fellow peer leaders and peers without disabilities. I also gained many professional connections with teachers for whose classes I peer led in.

To start a peer leadership class, a student should approach their teacher or other administrator and ask if they think that would be a good idea. Most schools’ teachers will be open to the idea of starting a class like Peer Leadership since the class allows friendships to develop.

2. Vote students with disabilities onto prom or homecoming court

Many schools across the US have voted students with intellectual and developmental disabilities onto their schools prom or homecoming court. Check out the story below about Summit High School.

One story that caught my eye was when Summit High School’s Prom King Dale Burdick, and Prom Queen Ashlyn Anglim gave away their titles and crowns to their buddies Marigrace Rogers and Aaron Wasson, who they were matched with through Summit High School’s Best Buddies chapter   Check out this article about their act of kindness: SHS Prom King and Queen give titles away!

3. Plan and go on alternative Spring Break trip with your Best Buddies chapter

Alternative Spring Break trips are often organized by Best Buddies chapters as an opportunity for members of the chapter to get away together. Many chapters are either starting to go on Alternative Spring Break trips or have gone on a trip. I have decided to highlight Best Buddies Wisconsin’s very own Shorewood High School’s Best Buddies Alternative Spring Break Trip briefly:

The Best Buddies chapter at Shorewood High School in Wisconsin first began going on alternative Spring Break trips last year. Last year they traveled to Hawaii and enjoyed Hawaiian food, experienced Hawaiian culture, learned how to travel independently. In the spring of 2016, they will be traveling to the Everglades in Florida. On March 5, 2015, Shorewood Best Buddies hosted a successful give back night to raise money for the trip. They raised over $1,000 through the fundraiser.

To read more about Shorewood’s trip to Hawaii click here: Best Buddies Shorewood goes to Hawaii

Check out their Facebook page for the Spring 2016 trip: Shorewood High School Spring Break Trip 2016

4. Encourage students with disabilities to audition for school plays and talent shows

At Chaparral High School, we encourage our students with disabilities to chase after their dreams by auditioning to perform during our school wide talent show, Coffee House and act in school plays. For the past few years, two of our students with disabilities have performed in the talent show, A few years ago, a member of our Best Buddies chapter sang “Kiss the Girl” from Disney’s Little Mermaid during Coffee House and his mom recorded his performance and submitted it to the Buddy Talent contest for Leadership Conference. Connor did not get to perform at conference but however Best Buddies International flew him to the Audi Best Buddies Challenge: Hearst Castle to perform the National Anthem.

5. Recommend that students with disabilities audition to speak during the school’s commencement ceremony

Many schools allow anyone in the school population, disability or not, to audition to speak during their graduation ceremony.

Just last year, I tried out to speak during Chaparral High School’s graduation ceremony thanks to encouragement from many of my teachers, family members, and friends from Best Buddies. One day during homeroom class, my primary teacher told me the exciting news that I was selected.  My speech received numerous standing ovations and went viral on Facebook and within emails. Check out my inspiration speech from Chaparral’s commencement ceremony here: Lindsey’s CHS graduation speech!

These are just a few suggestions of how to make your school more inclusive. If you have ways in which your school demonstrates inclusion, please share by posting a comment under this blog post or by sharing on the YLC facebook!

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