By Indrani Solomon
I am not much of a writer but writing this piece was surprisingly a breeze. With World Down Syndrome Day approaching, I get the privilege to share our little world with you and give you a first hand understanding of what it means to include someone with an intellectual disability in the real world.
Pranoy symbolizes any 11 year old kid with a stark difference in a competitive environment, he challenges me to see the world through a different lens. When Dr. Rose co-founded CAST in the 80’s, neuroplasticity became the nerve center of his good work. He proved to the fields of medicine and education that it is possible to make learning more attainable for all students by providing a mix of richer resources and emotions in the form of a framework for teachers and learners. His primary focus was to provide tools to the most vulnerable learners in order to level the playing field in any learning environment. Simply put, UDL could very well be interpreted as creating an environment that works for all.
When Pranoy started out learning the piano at 4 years of age, his teacher, Ms J, exhibited due diligence even though she had no experience teaching music to anyone with a disability before. I remember those years chanting my mantra, “tomorrow is another day” hoping to see progress. A few weeks shy of his 10th birthday, he participated in his first recital. Now he is playing the piano with both hands and multiple fingers as it should be. While he was making progress, something else was happening in the background for us to see the spark finally. We found a great basketball coach, essentially a competitive soccer coach by night and a lawyer by day, just filling in the gap to coach his son’s basketball team. You could call it a serendipitous occurrence.
Coach M is no longer his basketball coach but Pranoy is driven to learn the sport. The fascinating part is that he keeps in touch with Coach via email giving his Speech Language Pathologist, Ms K, an edge to perfect Pranoy’s communication skills providing him the time, attention and teamwork he sorely needs to advocate for himself, all through a communication device! And to think how the Student Services teacher, Mrs. H tickled his brain the very first day of school with a simple catch phrase, ‘later, gator’ that led to a rhyming trend in our inner circle forging him to read, comprehend and deliver.
It is simply amazing to watch a school build its curriculum around love, “the intrinsic love of learning”, aptly expressed by Mrs. T, his science teacher. And as the head of school, Dr. F elaborates, “we believe in our students and hold them up to high standards, both academically and behaviorally. Perseverance and self-advocacy are skills that will serve them well in college and throughout their lives. We truly believe that one thing that can really set people apart is their ability to keep working when the work gets hard. We teach them the power of kindness and remind them that, like academic skills they learn, being kind also requires regular practice.”
So here’s to each of you walking the walk, your courage and creativity is not just helping Pranoy but also inspiring so many more to follow your lead, giving me a deeper appreciation of your core leadership competencies - care and compassion. This video is testimony to your work of art -
Happy World Down Syndrome Day!