We Must Fight For Those Who Can’t Themselves

There is no single way to live life, and I want these children and students to know that.

Life is hard, and sometimes it is so hard to get up and be positive all day. However…

Life is meant to be lived to the fullest, and I truly believe that it can exceed anyone’s expectations- no matter what disability someone has. Children with disabilities not only face societal challenges, but also the simplest ones- like communicating with a loved one, or talking about feelings. There are many aspects that most fail to recognize about these special needs children.

I’ve come to learn that regardless of their level of functionality, when you meet someone with no filter — just pure humanity — your whole outlook changes.

I am a senior at Southmoreland High School. For a while now, I have always accredited my school for having such an amazing program for children with special needs and disabilities. Some of the special needs children I have met in my school are some of the happiest people I have ever encountered in my life. Most are always smiling, giggling and enjoying their time with their aides who provide them the support that they so desperately need.

Most of these special needs students are unable to communicate their wants and needs clearly- and the aides guide them with that. And a lot of the times, I’ve seen the peace that a calming touch can bring to a child. A sweet little boy that is in my school constantly craves touch with his aide, and I personally find it adorable because I know it makes him feel secure.

Regardless of the form that it takes, studies have shown the importance of touch to a healthy mind and proper socialization and development in disabled children.

These special children are able to hold on to and recognize our most basic need for love and affection — they also can sense the attitude of those around them and feed off of the love and joy that radiates from others, and they radiate that love in return.

Although every special needs child is different and every family is unique, there are some common concerns that link parents. These include getting appropriate care and promoting acceptance in the extended family, school, and community.

So, what’s the issue?

The issue is that my local School Board of Southmoreland School District decided special needs children and their aides are no longer of value or importance. The issue is that this committee is so concerned with viewing the students as dollar signs, and not beings that feel emotions. The issue is that the Southmoreland School Board will eliminate the dedicated and skilled aides that provide these special children the comfort and support they need to function.

On Thursday, March 21, 2019, my School Board held their monthly meeting. In recent times, budget has been a primary and main concern due to severe debt. This past summer, the committee decided to cut AP, college level Spanish and French classes — me being one of the students affected. Despite having all of my strenuous summer-work completed already, I let it go. I understand sacrifices have to be made in order to save money, however the decision made on Thursday is not just a sacrifice. It’s more than just a sacrifice.

“This is long term, and definitely has more consequences than what we see now,” Senior Raine Lookabill says, “This impacts everyone in the schools, not just the aides and special needs students.”

I will not let the students who are incapable of standing up for themselves be marginalized.

There are 4 students I can name off the top of my head that solely depend upon certain aides for their support whenever they start feeling uneasy. It’s unethical and immoral to strip these students of the familiarity they are so accustomed to after all of this time. It’s heartbreaking and disheartening that the 6 individuals whom voted in favor of outsourcing these amazing paraprofessionals forgot how these children resist change.

In the words of Kim Huff, a Southmoreland aide, “The school board can’t outsource our memories!”

It’s our job as a community to help represent these children who simply cannot defend themselves in dire times like this. These children view these aides more than just a paraprofessional, instructional assistant, or an educational assistant… They are these students’ superheroes.

We have a voice and it’s time we start using it.

In the words of Jazmine Frost, “I bet not one person on the board has witnessed the interactions between students and their aides. This is despicable.”

A point brought up by Dakota Coffman at Thursday night’s meeting was the fact that little to no members of the Board have recently visited the different schools and viewed what takes place daily with these students. Their decision of outsourcing these teachers under a different company with little to no benefits and a drastic pay cut was made with no consideration of the student’s needs — but isn’t Southmoreland’s motto “High Quality Learning For All”?

Carolyn Leonard says, “I have never seen a single school board member in our school seeing how these kids interact with these aides.”
Therefore, how can they act upon this topic so quickly, yet, delay the topic of budget for concession stands?

The true test of our character comes in the wake of adversity, and if we stay silent about issues that affect us as a community, we automatically fail by default. These are the most vulnerable students in the school district and they are simply being taken advantage of.

Many students in the special education of my school are primarily nonverbal with others, and I have learned that even if a kid does not ever say a word to me, but gives me a huge high five or fist bump — it means that sometimes words are not needed. And besides, high fives are awesome!

Please remain involved in the current events and news — the only way something can change is if we, as a community, let our voices be heard and fight for what we believe in. Everyone’s voice matters!

It is 100% possible to reach for the stars and actually land among them.

Open the door for someone, give a high five or simply act with kindness because actions are always louder.

Washington & Jefferson College — Be the change you wish to see in the world.

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