The Real Story: How the All-Abilities Alliance Restored Hope
Seventeen-year-old Sean uses a wheelchair and is nonverbal. A computer, controlled by his eye movements, allows him to communicate with others.
Sometimes, however, others aren’t interested, encouraged, or supported in the best practices for inclusion. Sean’s mother, Brenda, herself a seasoned special educator, claims that Sean never truly felt a part of his previous school.
But things are different at the Woodstock Academy, where Sean enrolled last April.
That's because the school is part of an initiative created and supported by the Governor’s Prevention Partnership. The administrators, faculty and staff at Woodstock Academy are engaged in efforts to improve school climate for all students, which includes a student led All-Abilities Alliance.
“The All-Abilities Alliance promotes disability awareness,” explains Jill Spineti, president and CEO of the Governor’s Prevention Partnership. “The Alliance works to improve the school climate by preventing bullying and reducing social isolation, which may particularly touch students who have disabilities.”
Along with maintaining the model for the Alliance, based on the most current research and best practices, the Governor’s Prevention Partnership provides the school with ongoing training for the students, as well as parents, teachers and administrators.
Victoria Despres, a Special Education Teacher, facilitates the All-Abilities Alliance at Woodstock Academy. “The Alliance is a student led group that works to promote a shift in thinking…to consider the things people can do, rather than what they cannot do.”, Despres explains. Ten students meet weekly to plan activities that are accessible for every student, including lesson plans for teachers and community awareness activities and trainings for the whole student body.
Linda Bonnar is a speech and language pathologist who has assisted Sean since he was in the third grade. In overseeing his communications system, she also works with staff and other students to help them learn to use and integrate the system so that Sean may fully participate in the daily curriculum, and in student life.
“I am very impressed,” notes Bonnar, “by the team at Woodstock Academy. The staff works together to engage every student, and they embraced Sean’s needs.” The other students enthusiastically learned how to interact with Sean, she adds. “They routinely make sure that he can access information and be an active participant in whatever is going on. I have heard them ask, ‘Can Sean do this?’ and then make adjustments to a program.”
Spineti concurs, explaining that the All-Abilities Alliance promotes the idea that everyone can contribute to a positive school climate.
And if you ask Brenda, she gives the program top grades. "Sean was welcomed with opened arms," she states, "and he's part of their fabric now. He is completely included here and has never been happier.” She believes that the program, including teachers, staff, and students, such as prospective educators, not only trains them in how to assist and interact positively with all students, but also, in the true spirit of inclusion, ultimately touches them all.