I remember the first time I met Jane.* She was in the third or fourth grade, although she was tall for her age and could easily have been mistaken for a sixth or seventh grader. I was a new superintendent visiting her small two-teacher school.
During recess I began to recognize that Jane wasn’t like the other learners. There was a kickball game going on in the gymnasium and I watched from an upstairs window. When it was Jane’s turn to kick the ball, she shied away from it as it approached and would not even try to kick. Yet no one yelled at her or made fun of her, which impressed me.
The rest of my time visiting the school I watched Jane and noticed she struggled in most of her subjects. But she had the sweetest smile! In my mind I can still see her smiling. It seemed like her smile was always there. And it was clear she loved Jesus.
The teacher and I talked about how to help Jane, since she was not demonstrating normal academic growth. We discussed the possibility of having her tested through the public school so we would know exactly what services she needed. We were not even sure we could provide her with the assistance she needed to succeed. But the teacher began discussing with Jane’s parents our desire for further testing, and after some time the parents agreed and began the process of requesting testing through the local public school.
The results showed that Jane would probably never learn more than basic life skills and she would be better served attending a small school than attending public school. After talking with her parents, everyone agreed Jane would continue in school but normal academic gains would not be expected. Jane would be encouraged to socialize and learn at her own pace.
Every time I visited Jane’s school I watched for signs she was learning. The teacher patiently worked with her and created an inclusive classroom environment (before that term was even used) where Jane could experience success. While this was not a perfect school, in general all classroom learners respected and encouraged one another. It was a fun place to visit. Each time I watched Jane at recess I knew she was in the right place when I saw her kick the ball and run to first base with her teammates encouraging her and showing her where to run.
Jane’s teacher did not have the resources we have today. Adventist educators today can utilize the REACH website and manual for resources to make a difference in the lives of students with learning differences. They know they can differentiate instruction, provide minimal supports and create an inclusive classroom which allows all learners—including those with learning differences—to succeed.
While there are times where a learner may be better served in a different environment, Adventist teachers know that with supportive parents, pastors, church members and administrators, and with Divine guidance, most learners’ physical, intellectual, social and spiritual needs can be met in the classroom.
Jane’s teacher did what dedicated Adventist teachers have done for years—she created an environment where learners are prepared for service here on this earth and in the New Earth to come.
—LouAnn Howard is director of education for the Mid-America Union.