Do you see Jonathan? He’s the young man in the picture seated rear left. Head tilted back, mouth open wide in laughter. The expression on his face says it all, doesn’t it? In the split second captured in this photograph, Jonathan is unimpeded, uninhibited, unobstructed, and gloriously unrestricted. Seated next to his classmates, he is - in a rare moment - one of the guys, and he’s euphoric. Weightless, traveling at speeds that approach 90mph, twisting and turning and barreling down the roller coaster track, suspended high above the ground, Jonathan is truly free. Free. Free from his chair. Free from the health challenges that constrain his ability to move and impede his ability to communicate. Free from societal prejudice. Free from community stereotypes. Free from the soft bigotry of low expectations. Laughing between breathless gasps and intermittent bursts of adrenalin, in this fleeting instant, Jonathan is like every other healthy, carefree 18-year-old. Do you see him?
I see Jonathan. In many ways he is just like everyone else. He wears cool kicks - timeless Converse tennis shoes - and he sports a hip Bristle Batons Bro-merang (mustache). He plays X-Box and Candy Crush. I see Jonathan’s uniqueness, too. He enjoys art, especially ceramics. And he likes the sport of wrestling. Yes. Wrestling. He and a classmate from his Special Day Class decided to join the high school wrestling team. Not as managers. As wrestlers. And in the spring 2017, at the annual State Wrestling Tournament, Jonathan was named the Most Inspirational Wrestler in CA. Mostly though, I see Jonathan’s great desire to be noticed and affirmed. I see his desire to be included – to have opportunities to learn with and alongside his peers. I see Jonathan. If we’re not careful, though, we miss seeing Jonathan, and all we see is his disability. We see Cerebral Palsy, a condition that impairs Jonathan’s movement, coordination, reflexes, as well as his ability to communicate. Jonathan is so much more than his disability. Look at that picture again. Do you see Jonathan?
I’m proud to work in a school district that is committed to seeing each and every one of our students as individuals first. Jonathan may be one of over 36,424 students attending schools in PUSD, but trust me, he is well known at the schools he’s attended and deeply loved. To be certain, Jonathan and the other 4,696 students we serve with learning disabilities face unique challenges; however, it is our conviction that when held to high standards and expectations, when afforded appropriate levels of support, extraordinary outcomes are possible. When we personalize learning in the least restrictive environment, we take a critical step toward ending the isolation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Think about it for a moment. What do you remember about school? If you’re like most people, you remember the teachers, the coaches, and your classmates. And you probably remember a few very special moments where you were a part of something amazing - often outside of class. For Jonathan, and for all the students he represents, for a whole group of people who have been historically isolated and excluded from participation in campus life, school has to become something more. All of our students have something amazing to contribute to our community; all of our students deserve an opportunity to explore and develop their interests and passion in inclusive learning environments.
It’s an awesome responsibility, preparing this next generation to take their places on the world stage. And it’s one that Team PUSD takes very seriously. Thank you for trusting us with your child. Together, we can create incredible moments for each and every one of our students – moments our kids will remember for a lifetime.
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