My first memories of children with Down Syndrome was during elementary school in the early 1970’s – and these memories were bleak as far as the school setting. All students with disabilities were taught in a single classroom, they didn’t participate in the general education setting except during recess, and at lunchtime they sat at their own table. The table was full of smiles and laughter from the teachers and the students – but it was noticed from afar, separated from the rest of the school.
Fast forward to my college years when I decided to double major in elementary school special education – things were certainly different for many of the students I worked with in field experiences or practicum situations but I still felt we could do better. Over the past 25 years I have worked in many different settings and have seen many positive changes in the understanding and attitudes toward people with disabilities – thanks to much advocacy done by parents and groups such as GiGi’s.
An example of this advocacy was an “Up with Down’s meeting I attended a few years ago while I was a special education teacher in Grand Forks. One Saturday, three of my colleagues and I drove to Fargo to listen to a speaker on behavior management. On the drive home our conversation centered on the hard work and dedication of this parent’s group. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I’m sure I met or saw some of the future GiGi’s board members at that meeting.
I became involved with GiGi’s because I want to help be an advocate for our children – and because I love teaching and learning. At first I wasn’t sure how I might be involved as a volunteer but the thing is, there’s something at GiGi’s for any kind of volunteer no matter your special talents. I am part of the Literacy Tutoring Team – both as a trainer and a tutor. This program pairs one of our children or adults with a volunteer tutor for weekly one-hour tutoring sessions – over a period of ten weeks. Our team recruits and trains the volunteer tutors but the tutors, parents and “tutees” are really the heart of the program. Last fall I met the child I would tutor for the next few months and in all honesty, my hour with her on Friday afternoons was always a highlight of my week – talk about combining laughter, reading, learning and then even more laughter.
I think about how times have changed – and how our children today will not have to sit at a different table, letting their light and laughter only be shared with a select few. There’s a world of opportunity out there and GiGi’s is a big part of helping that happen.
Remember GiGi’s Playhouse on February 9th for Giving Hearts Day!!