By Doni Dondero
Raymond Tetschner had always been fully included in public school in Arizona, so when the family started looking at middle school, full inclusion was their goal. But this time, there was an additional challenge–they wanted that education in a Catholic school. As the family approached Raymond’s 6th grade year, they talked with four Catholic schools that were not open to the idea. Then the family approached Bishop McNamara High School in Forrestville, MD, and the answer was “yes.”
Raymond is literally singing the praises of the principal and staff when he participates in choir, one of his favorite subjects in addition to theology. He also serves his school as football team manager, was in the school musical, and was invited to throw out the first pitch at the Bishop McNamara High School military appreciation game in April. Older brothers Mitchell, 24, and Stephen, 28, who is recently married, love hearing about how Raymond is navigating the maze of high school.
But moving to a new state is tough, so the family was excited when they were introduced to GiGi’s Playhouse via GiGiFIT, a fitness class where Raymond met Ethan, Laila, Tom, Jamie, Emily and Courtney, to name of few of his new friends. He attended the fitness program specifically developed for individuals with Down syndrome, once a week at GiGi’s Playhouse and once a week at Glen Burnie Fitness and Nutrition, a cross-fit gym. It was an amazing experience. Raymond says about GiGi’s Playhouse, “Cool friends there. Love that place.” and his Mom writes, “We have been blessed to feel so welcomed into the GiGi’s family!”
Raymond has fun attending TeenTastic where he can hang out with his friends as well as peer volunteers from local area high schools. He enjoys the planned program activities, and especially looks forward to the singing and dancing events at GiGi’s Playhouse. Raymond recently participated in GiGi’s Playhouse community caroling event partnering with other teens from the All Children’s Chorus of Annapolis. The group sang carols at the GAP Annapolis store as well as strolling through the Annapolis Harbour Center Mall. Some of the goals in the TeenTastic program include increasing social skills, with a focus on group participation and increasing leisure activity options, increase language development, gross and fine motor skills. The Tetschner family has found what it was seeking for Raymond–a Catholic education and friends in the community.
Says Michelle Tetschner, Raymond’s mom and author of two books on inclusion,“I’m wildly passionate about inclusion. We believe strongly that we live in one world–and we all belong. No one is perfect. We are all perfectly imperfect. Let’s celebrate each other’s strengths and gifts.” The Tetschners’ new book, Fully Included–Stories to Inspire Inclusion, has stories from families, teachers, educators and even principals who believe in children with special needs, and hopefully will inspire people to look beyond the diagnosis to see the person and the strengths each of us has within us, according to Raymond’s mom.
Michelle also says that inclusion is about belonging. We all just want to belong–in our schools, and in our communities. Children with Down syndrome or other learning abilities are the same–they just want to be loved, have friends and a place to belong #MoreAlikeThanDifferent.