Author: Kim McLeod
This is published with permission from the author. This post was originally published on her public Facebook page HERE.
Open letter to the schools, to the administrations, teachers, support staff and students
The Paper Bag
It is graduation year for my son and the students were at the annual day away at a local camp to celebrate their end of year and their time spent completing their journey through middle and high school .
I arrived to pick up my son and his nurse from this activity and there were happy students everywhere! They were taking pictures, playing games, and talking. Teacher stood around talking as well, everyone smiled. It was a beautiful, fun filled day.
I found my son at the centre of the main room flanked by his wheelchair on one side and his nurse on the other as he received some medication. All around him, students ran about with paper bags – some bags hung on the walls with names on them, and others in the hands of students.
I asked what was going on, my son said he did not know, and the nurse said it was some activity of the day.
I watched as clusters of students ran up to each other and exchanged notes or stuffed notes into each other’s bags before darting off to another group or moving along the table of papers , pens, and such. It occurred to me “Oh, it’s an activity to share encouragement to each other! Where is your bag?”
My son replied: “I don’t have one.”What? Well, why not? I looked to the nurse for something to help me understand this situation. She had nothing.
As I scanned the room, observing the bags on the wall, in their cheerful students ‘hands, I was dismayed by the contrast between my son and everyone else , watching them fill each other up with affirmations well wishes or whatever – they were busy seeing each other. They did not see him.
You did not see him, Fellow students, Educational Assistant, teachers and facilitators.
You did not see him. Not only was his bag empty – he did not have a bag to fill.
It broke my heart, I choked on tears as we walked out and headed back to school. I had ‘bought into’ the hope of the day, to the hope of its promise of celebration, to the hope of inclusion. It hurt me that much more to see that in the end there was no paper bag for my child, no affirmations, no well wishes.
Is it not the promise of inclusion to fill each student with something, some connection?
This moment reflects my long suffering of watching my son be excluded throughout his high school education.
This moment is backed by years of grief that come with fighting for inclusion, for support, for recognition of my child’s best ability.
This moment is backed by my grief of watching social connections from elementary school fall away through the years, unable to be facilitated for lack of the school’s support.
This moment is lined with grief over the continued need to educate you on how to recognize my son not as a medical problem or a wheelchair but a person—a person who matters as much as every other student with a bag.
Inclusion is not based on the support of an Education Assistant alone – it is based on the common belief that we are all responsible to reach out and invite each other to be a part of what is going on.
It is not solely the Educational Assistant’s responsibility, it is every single one who has the capacity to reach out – beyond perceived barriers such as nurses, medical issues, mental health limitations, behaviour, hygiene, social skills and make an invitation to be a part of something greater than any one person – but part of the greater community. That invitation is a higher calling for all.
My child could have been any child there – if you knew of a child suffering with mental health or anxiety would you reach out to them? Would you yourself place something in their bag?
Would you make sure they had a bag? What is stopping you from reaching for that higher calling of seeing and including another human being?
You need to do better!
The mom of a child with no paper bag
*Share this with those who create policy or implement policy, those who are part of creating the school culture of inclusion. Pray their hearts are open and their actions hear this message.