Stories of Inclusion


  • RAYMOND • Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School, Scottsdale, AZ

    Our son Raymond currently attends Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School in Scottsdale, AZ. This is our first year. He’s in 6th grade, now going into 7th grade.

When baseball season was getting started, we were excited for our son to join the team. Then we realized how complicated it could be. He’s not a good catcher, he does throw well, but likely wouldn’t be able to get a hit. We let all the “What Ifs” start to pile up. We spoke with the coach — an amazing mom with 4 kids — who said:”Please let him play. I will make it work.”

    We were completely humbled by her faith in our son and her confidence that she could and would make it work. It was awesome! Our son was ecstatic to be a part of the team!

    There were bumps along the way sure ~ but way too many good ones that we would have missed! One of the brightest moments for us, as parents, came when my son got up to bat at St. Thomas the Apostle School. He got a good solid hit ~ right to a player, who then slowly dropped the ball, allowing my son to get on base! This wasn’t “suggested”, this wasn’t “planned”, this was simple kindness and wonderful sportsmanship in that one incredible moment. There are so many heroes in the world – from our coaches to that player.

    Inclusion isn’t that complicated. It’s simply concentrating on each other’s gifts and strengths.

    Beautifully said…inclusion makes us all better. Congratulations to the entire 6th grade baseball team at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and their amazing coach who said YES!

  • BELLA • St. Pius V Catholic School, Buena Park, CA
    [Dated: March 20, 2016]

    unnamed-7To the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion,I wanted to share my daughter’s story with you since it was your organization’s non-profit website that prompted me to actively pursue inclusion.My daughter Bella has spent the majority of her early years suffering from refractory epilepsy. Her life consisted of many doctor visits, hospital stays, therapies and medications. It took a toll on her development. Once she reached school age, it appeared as if her needs could only be met in the most restrictive of placements. As a non-verbal autistic, her lack of purposeful speech and motor difficulties meant she was greatly misunderstood. She could not speak, she could not write – it was as if she was trapped in a body that just wouldn’t cooperate with her. Because of this, her educational goals were low, repetitive and boring. Year after year very little changed.It wasn’t until she was able to learn and communicate through a teaching methodology called Rapid Prompting Method did we see the most dramatic change in Bella. In the span of a little over 3 years Bella has learned to type to communicate. She is insightful, incredibly brave and inspiring as she challenges others to view disability in a completely different light. The first thing Bella spells for most people is “I am smart”.

    unnamed-8As I prepared for Bella’s last IEP, she shared with me these words, “I belong with my neuro-typical peers”. Yes, those were her exact words! And so began my advocacy for Bella to attend her home school Jr. High. It didn’t take long to realize by the tone of the administrator’s voice on speaker phone that inclusion was not a concept they neither believed in nor practiced.

    While Bella began the 2015 school year at yet another Non Public School, my search for an inclusive school began in earnest. I found your website and felt it was a sign when I saw St. Pius V Catholic School listed as it was just a little over a mile away from the school Bella was attending. When I initially called St. Pius V Catholic School I really doubted that anything would come of it. I had called another Catholic school not listed on your website and never received a response. All it took was that one phone call that led to Bella being included. It almost seemed too good to be true. I expected to have to convince them, or at least listen to all the reasons why it wouldn’t work. Instead what we experienced was love and acceptance. I attend school with Bella as her communication partner and support.

    Several weeks ago, as I was attempting to finalize this letter, the Most Reverend Bishop Vann of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange visited St. Pius V Catholic School. Bella had the opportunity to ask him a question. From her iPad, she typed “Is it possible for all students to get a catholic education despite their differences?”

    Here is part of a letter that Bella wrote in response to the visit…
    “The few months I’ve been at St. Pius have been the most rewarding months since I learned to communicate by typing. You have no idea how it feels to finally learn like a typical student. It feels amazing to be included and loved.”

    In closing I would like to thank you for playing a key role in making my daughter’s wishes for inclusion a reality. Bella and our entire family has been blessed by your efforts to raise awareness and inspire more Catholic schools to be open to welcoming all of God’s children. Many continued blessings to you.

    With appreciation,
    Ana Santoyo

  • GRETCHEN • St. Apollinaris Catholic School, Napa, CAGretchen, image

    Gretchen is now in 5th grade at St. Apollinaris Catholic School in Napa, CA and has been fully included since Kindergarten. She will be the first child with Down syndrome to graduate from a Catholic elementary school in our entire diocese. The thirty other children in her class don’t see her disability and she has taught them as much as they have taught her. We have more flexibility and control in the Catholic school and she is going to school right alongside her sisters and future leaders of our community. This journey has not been easy. We have had our ups and downs, but I absolutely think Gretchen is further academically, socially and spiritually than she would have been in our public school system. I think it is important to constantly have dialogue with the teachers and let them know what your expectations are. As long as there is forward progress and learning, your child does not have to know all of the curriculum to be promoted to the next grade. After six years at St. A’s, I feel like everyone wants Gretchen to succeed and they can all be so proud in having a part in her education. It does take a village and every child with Down Syndrome should have the opportunity to be educated with their fellow Catholic peers. People do not realize that it is not necessarily more expensive to “do inclusion”. It’s more of a state of mind that anyone can do if you are willing and open to doing it. It is the right thing to do and we should be leading inclusion instead of following. Our children can bring so much to the Catholic schools. They can change an entire community. We are on our third principal since Gretchen has started St. A’s and all agree that she is an asset rather than a burden to our school and have supported us in our dream.” — By Erica Conway-Wahle

  • CRISTINA • St. Philomene’s, Sacramento, CAcristina, image

    “My daughter Cristina is a vibrant happy 7th grader at St. Philomenes in Sacramento, California. This is her second year there and she is doing great. Cristina enjoys her teachers and classmates very much. She is fully included in every aspect of this faith filled education. I, her mother, am her aid. I help modify her work so that she can get the most out of this learning experience. We have the complete support of her teachers, they believe in her abilities and have high expectations of Cristina. We fully believe in this type of educational experience for Cristina and are very grateful to have found a school that has embraced her for who she is.” — By Raquel Riegos

  • PATRICK • Saint James School, Davis, CA
    Patrick, image

    “Way back in 1999, our son Patrick was born with Down Syndrome and a congenital heart defect that would require open heart surgery at just nine weeks old. Patrick had an older brother named Jack who was six and an older sister named Mary Kate who was four. Jack was in our local Catholic school and Mary Kate was set to attend kindergarten within the year. Believe it or not, one of my deepest sorrows in those very early days was not that Patrick would have Down Syndrome or need to endure open heart surgery. It was the almost instant feeling of separateness — the feeling that Patrick would not be welcomed at his brother and sister’s school. So, I got online and found the Network of Inclusive Catholic Educators (their acronym N.I.C.E. wins all the awards!) and realized that students with developmental disabilities were being included in their local Catholic schools.This was thrilling!! —— Seeing this, I knew that it was possible for Patrick to attend our Catholic school. I also felt confident in asking for this opportunity since I had taught a student with Down Syndrome fully included in a 5th grade classroom in a local public school. I knew what I was asking as an educator and now this was not only an educational question but a moral question as well.How could one child be separated from his siblings, his parish community, his faith? How could full inclusion not be paramount?  —— And so, in 2005, with the blessing of our parish priest, Father Dan Looney and our school principal, Mary Kay Bolz, Patrick began kindergarten at St. James School in Davis, California. He was the first student in his school and the first in the diocese of Sacramento with Down Syndrome to be fully included.I truly cannot tell you the profound feeling of acceptance and gratitude I held as Patrick walked down the street with Jack and Mary Kate to begin his schooling. It felt exactly, cosmically, perfectly right.” — By Beth Foraker

  • JOHN MICHAEL • Saints Mel Catholic School, Fair Oaks, CA
    John Micheal, image

    It looks like your baby has Down syndrome, my OB/Gyn announced shortly after the birth of John Michael, our 4th of 5 children. Down syndrome? How could they tell?  Were they sure?  Two weeks later, the diagnosis was confirmed by a genetic test. Trisomy 21. That was the beginning of an unexpected and unplanned journey that has brought us and our family immense joy along with its unique challenges… but one thing remains, John Michael is an essential part of our family and our community.Nearly 7 years ago, we entered into this brave new world of special needs, special educators, speech therapy, occupational therapy, adaptive PE, music therapy, routine blood tests, behavior therapists, IEPs and ISPs… But along with it came a whole new world of amazing friends and truly seeing the beauty in John Michael.  They say it takes a village to raise our children… how true it is!  John Michael is truly surrounded by a village of people who care about him and his well-being and who would do almost anything to help him succeed.Since Kindergarten, John Michael has been fully included in our kids’ Catholic elementary school. He is in First Grade this year and doing very well. In addition to his regular curriculum, he also enjoys Computer class, Music, Spanish and Art.  John Michael has an aide that helps him when he needs a little extra time to process some new information or to finish work. The entire student body from Transitional Kindergarten through Eighth Grade knows John Michael and not a day goes by that he doesn’t have friends in all grades who want to play with him or give him high-fives in the hallways.

    We are extremely fortunate to have a principal, Janet Nagel, who believes whole-heartedly in inclusion and that John Michael should be at St. Mel’s.  When John Michael was only one year old, Janet met Beth Foraker at an Inclusion Conference and told me I had to meet Beth.  Beth and her son, Patrick, have been incredible trailblazers and I’m so thankful that she has helped pave the way for John Michael and others who will follow.” — By Monica Crumley

  • ADRIENNE BAYER • St. Francis of Assisi School, Ellsworth, WI Adrienne, image

    “Shown here in this picture to the right is Adrienne (front and center) with her 4th grade class. Each school year the classes prepare a “Special Mass”. This year the theme was the Saints. Adrienne participated in the class skit as an angel, said her petition loud and clear in the microphone and sang the class song. She has been too shy in the past to say her petition. The teacher described the practice the day before the Mass. Right after Adrienne said her petition, the whole class erupted in a cheer. The kids get it. They always have. Just another lesson that we as adults — and all adults involved in Catholic education — can learn from our kids.” — By Cyndy Bayer

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