Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Down Syndrome Awareness Month Week 4.5

We wrapped up another year of Down Syndrome Awareness posts, but we live this everyday, so it never stops. Thanks to everyone for reading, sharing, and giving positive words of encouragement and feedback. 

#DSAM2017 Oct 31: Thanks for reading and sharing! Be safe tonight! #downsyndromeawareness #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #t21 #inclusion #unifiedsports #unifiedeverything #choosetoinclude #celebratedownsyndrome #justlistenharder



#DSAM2017 Oct 30: Letdowns. Sometimes, no matter how much work we put into something, it just doesn’t work out. As a public educator, I wasn’t entirely stoked to meet our current secretary of education. It was a surprise while we were in DC lobbying for @specialolympics. This picture specifically broke the special needs side of the internet. I did a whole write up on it on my blog as an open letter to Betsy DeVos and to stand up for Special Olympics. I won’t rehash that here. If you’re interested, just click on the link in the bio to find it. Anyhow, the story isn’t over, she’s still our secretary of education, and I can only continue to hope that our efforts made a bigger impact on her in the long run. It doesn’t appear to be that way... but we will push on with our special interest group that doesn’t seem to be that special with the current administration. As long as our buddies are shuffled to the side in school, on the field, in society, in church, in the work place, we will get up each day to keep advocating and making sure that they are included. Here’s to forced handshakes and fake smiles! #downsyndromeawareness #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #t21 #inclusion #unifiedsports #unifiedeverything #choosetoinclude #celebratedownsyndrome #justlistenharder



#DSAM2017 Oct 29: Politics. This is a picture in DC of our @specialolympicsaz team from February when we lobbied on Capitol Hill for Unified Sports and Healthy Athletes. Spreading awareness and advocating for buddies with DS is an ongoing, life long process. We must be a voice for those that haven’t developed their own yet, and encourage them as they age to advocate for themselves as well. While I have been advocating since Judah was born, our trip to DC was really the first time we were able to do so outside of our community and social media. We joined other teams from each state to lobby for Special Olympics by meeting with our state senators and representatives. It was a great experience that really opened my eyes to how important advocacy is. #downsyndromeawareness #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #trisomy21 #t21 #choosetoinclude #inclusion #unifiedsports #unifiedeverything #specialolympics #specialolympicsaz #specialolympicsarizona #justlistenharder #celebratedownsyndrome



#DSAM2017 Oct 28: Repost of this little beauty from 2 years ago. #downsyndromeawareness #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy27 #t21 #justlistenharder



#DSAM2017 Oct 27: STEM & Inclusion. Both are very real possibilities for students with Down syndrome. It can look different for each student, but why wouldn’t it be an option? Just because it seems like a difficult concept to grasp, doesn't mean it has to be. The wonderful thing about students with IEP's is that we have more freedom to personalize their learning. Students with Down syndrome CAN learn the same concepts as their peers. We must modify and/ or accommodate to help them. Judah is in 6th grade this year. He's currently learning about the water cycle... just like his classmates... in a gen ed class. Here he is with classmates during a science lab... participating. Why would I ever want to keep him “self-contained” for 6 periods a day when he is capable of this? Real talk: he’s in my extensive support class for about 2 hours each day for language arts and math. Not unlike a resource classroom. #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #T21 #dsam2017 #justlistenharder #inclusion #specialeducation #celebratedownsyndrome #choosetoinclude



#DSAM2017 Oct 26: Respect. Many of us have experienced the "I'm sorry!" comments when we first tell someone we have a child with Down syndrome.  It happens more often when they're babies, but I still get it on occasion 12 years into this. My wife and I would get fairly offended in the beginning, and some of you new parents may also be experiencing the same thing. When someone offers condolences, it's most likely because they are giving support the best way they know how, even if the comment comes from a place of ignorance. This is another reason why awareness is still necessary. It's a perfect time to advocate and explain why there is nothing to be sorry or sad about. Down syndrome is a chromosomal issue, and not one that can be "healed" any more than we can change our eye or skin color. It’s just as much a part of who they are. There can be many health concerns however, and those are things to accept prayers and sympathy for. As for my family and I however, we don't want sympathy! We never did! We just want respect! That's the way we live our lives, and would encourage others to find their motivation to do the same. #downsyndromeawareness #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #t21 #justlistenharder #celebratedownsyndrome #usversusthem #respect #carveyourownpath



#DSAM2017 Oct 25: Get to know me. "I'm 12 years old, and like other boys my age, I like baseball, pizza, watching movies, and listening to music. I like to play with hot wheels and go for rides in real ones. I like girls and hanging out. I also happen to have Down syndrome."

@ndssorg has an ongoing inclusion and acceptance campaign for schools called "Get To Know Me". I've been using the handouts, lesson plan, and ideas as a teacher . Get to know someone in your life with Down syndrome! If you have someone in your life already, they need you to advocate for them. Awareness is still needed because we live in a society that continues to put a label before the person. We still live in a society that uses derogatory slang in everyday talk. Judah is a 12 year old boy with Down syndrome. He is not a “downs boy” or “Down syndrome boy”. Judah is not "retarded". He has an "intellectual disability" that comes with having Down syndrome. My kid is rad! I'm super proud of the boy he is and I wouldn't trade him for anything! #inclusion #choosetoinclude #specialeducation #downsyndromeawareness #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #t21 #justlistenharder #celebratedownsyndrome



#DSAM2017 Oct 24: Choose life. Stay with me on this one and don’t jump to conclusions! Awareness is still necessary when our society chooses termination over life. The statistics are staggering: An estimated 92 percent of all women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose to terminate their pregnancies, according to research reviewed by Dr. Brian Skotko, a pediatric geneticist at Children's Hospital Boston. Only about 1/10 children with Down syndrome get a shot at life. There’s even a country that actually believes they can do away with it completely. It’s not a disease, so there is no cure. Instead of ranting about pro-life/pro-choice I will choose to shed some positive light on the situation. If you or someone you love is faced with the choice to terminate because of a prenatal diagnosis of DS, please consider the benefits of keeping your child with Down syndrome. Let my life and so many others be an example. My boy is 12 years old and having him has changed my life for the better in more ways than I could possibly count. Life altering ways! I am a better human being because Judah is my son. Please do some research and read the stories about those of us that have been changed because we were given a child with Down syndrome. There are challenges, and nothing is certain, but it's worth it! If you're a parent/loved one/educator/therapist/doctor/friend of someone with Down syndrome, please share the love and advocate on behalf of bringing awareness, acceptance, and inclusion. #specialeducation #downsyndromeawareness #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #t21 #justlistenharder #celebratedownsyndrome



#DSAM2017 Oct 23: Awareness develops authentic change. When you promote awareness in your community you are helping to create authentic cultural change. It's good for everyone. There are ups and downs in doing so, but working towards it on a daily basis yields consistent growth towards acceptance and inclusion of all people. Keep it up, hold fast, and never lose heart. #downsyndromeawareness #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #specialeducation #inclusion #acceptance #justlistenharder #dsawareness #dsawarenessmonth #choosetoinclude

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Down Syndrome Awareness Month 2017, Week 3.

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Each year I advocate for Down Syndrome Awareness by posting daily pictures of my son, students, athletes, and friends with DS on my @justlistenharder Instagram account and Facebook page. With each picture I write a short blurb about whatever is on my mind that day to advocate. Each week during October, I will post that weeks pics/blurbs here in one post. Enjoy and help spread Down Syndrome Awareness by reposting! Cheers!


#DSAM2017 Oct 21: I originally posted this one in October 2014. Still relevant, if not more so! As a father, it's always great to see other dads advocating for their kids with Down syndrome and other special needs. A man's voice and influence in any child's life is greatly needed; but even that much more for those who can't speak for themselves yet. If you're the father of a child with Down syndrome, or other special need, they need you. They need your voice, your strength, your reinforcement, your love, and encouragement. Do what you need to in dealing with your emotions, uncertainty, and questions. But please don't abandon your child physically or emotionally. We may not know each other, and could be world's apart; but I am available to listen, talk, and help you sort things out if you need to. It’s ok to choke up, get angry, sad, and even depressed if that’s where you go emotionally. Eventually though, you’ve got to man up and be a daddy, not just the supplier! Cheers to all y'all dads of kids with DS and other special needs that I have connected with on some level! I am encouraged by you! An extra shout out to those men that have “stepped” up as step-daddy’s too! My hope with all that I do in real and digital life has always been to pay it forward and be an example for all, but especially to fathers. Keep your heads high! #downsyndromeawareness #dsawareness #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #dsawarenessmonth #trisomy21 #t21 #justlistenharder #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #celebratedownsyndrome



#DSAM2017 Oct 20: I started this IG account October 1st, 2014 to support my blog. I began with these same daily “celebration” posts for #downsyndromeawarenessmonth. This is one of the first ones I posted of Judah and several of his “day one friends”. We moved to Yuma a few months after he was born and immediately connected with these three and their families through @sharingdsaz. Having that support early on was crucial for us and we are thankful for those times! New parents/families, I highly suggest finding an advocacy group wherever you’re at. Thank you #sharingDSyuma we love you all! #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #t21 #sharingdownsyndromeaz #sharingdownsyndromearizona #justlistenharder #celebratedownsyndrome



#DSAM2017 Oct 19: Preteen status. This dude is 12 today! That face says it all too! He is stoked! As many of you know, we transitioned from elementary to middle school this year. It's been a big change for both of us, but this dudes anxiety really came out the first couple months. New campus, new students, new teachers, everything. Not the easiest transition, but we expected that. I am happy to say that he is settling in and has really made some solid friends here. The outpouring of kindness at school today for his birthday has been awesome! We're 12 years in. There's definitely been some rough spots, but all the good far outweighs the bad! Now we're headed home to celebrate with family! Cheers to my buddy on his birthday today! Let the good times roll! #letthegoodtimesroll #choosetoinclude #inclusion #specialeducation #downsyndromeawareness #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #t21 #justlistenharder #celebratedownsyndrome



#DSAM2017 Oct 18: Us versus them. I do my best to keep a positive outlook and portray that on social media. Make no mistake though, life is not always positive, and things aren't always awesome. I'd say for every 3-5 rad things I post, there's 1 negative event that I didn't post. To be real though, I'm not going to post the negative really at all. That's the stuff we're trying to push through. Society is cruel and heartless. We have to sift through lots of garbage to find the good stuff. But it makes that good stuff all the more sweeter. Our buddies with Down syndrome are the ones that don't get asked to play, to sleep over, come to the birthday parties, etc. Forever left out. That's why I do what I do. To make sure they are included. Most of the time we're met with open arms, but sometimes we're not. Sometimes I have to be aggressive and pushy. Sometimes it does feel like it's us versus them. Which is why we've been carving our own path from the start. We've made some amazing friends and allies along the way... we've made a few enemies too... but I'll never relent in my push for inclusion of my son and students. Thank you to all of you that love my boy for who he is and have done your part in including him! You are the good stuff and I'll never forget those of you that go out of your way for Judah and my students. Those rare birthday parties he is invited to are everything to him! Asking him to come to baseball practice... priceless. Eating lunch with him at school is the coolest! Bringing over birthday gifts just because you're a good friend... irreplaceable. Kicking the ball around with him and helping him in his gen ed classes... the best! Pushing him up front to see his favorite band... no words! Seriously, thank you to all that have gone out of your way to include my boy and my students. We never wanted sympathy, we just want respect. "When it's us versus them... you can always count on me!" When no one else wants you on their team... you know you are always on mine! I love you buddy! #downsyndromeawareness #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #t21 #justlistenharder #usversusthem #celebratedownsyndrome



#DSAM2017 Oct 17: Speech. People with Down syndrome appear to have larger tongues. In reality, they just have smaller mouths so it makes the tongue look bigger. It's not uncommon to see our buddies with DS "sticking their tongue out". Imagine trying to learn to talk with a marshmallow stuck to the roof of your mouth. That's what our buddies are up against and it's why they have a difficult time with communication. Especially in the early years. Just like anyone else, some learn to communicate and use words much more than others. This is because the level of intellectual disability varies with the individual. So not only do our buddies have small mouths crowded by a regular sized tongue, it takes them longer to figure out how to use it and form words that the rest of us can understand. Judah will be 12 in 2 days. He pronounces the word twelve as "tells". Just to give an example of how he talks. The best advice I have received from an adult with Down syndrome was "if you can't understand him, JUST LISTEN HARDER" when I asked what advice she would give to a new dad of a little boy with Down syndrome. Ultimately that has become my daily reminder and the title I use for my blog and social media. When you're with our buddies it takes patience, and it's ok if you don't understand what they're saying, they'll get there eventually... just listen harder. #downsyndromeawareness #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #t21 #justlistenharder #speech #jdmcpherson #celebratedownsyndrome



#DSAM2017 Oct 16: Siblings. This is Judah with his two beautiful sisters, my daughters. They have the kindest and gentlest hearts. I'd love to take the credit for what great kids they are, but I'm pretty convinced a big part of it is because of their brother with Down syndrome. Neither one of them know life without him. They are the unsung heroes and second parents to him. My wife and I do our best not to demand they do extra for him, but they come by it naturally. Always helping out and stepping in. If you are a sibling of someone with special needs, how has that shaped who you are? It's inevitable and I hope it's more positive than not. I don't advocate for my girls like I do for Judah, because they are confident and fully capable of speaking for themselves. I am very proud of them! So this post is to celebrate the siblings of those with Down syndrome and other special needs. I admire the bond you share and would love to hear some of those stories. Cheers! #downsyndromeawareness #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #t21 #justlistenharder #celebratedownsyndrome



#DSAM2017 Oct 15: From the moment Judah was born my eyes were constantly open and looking for older examples of families with a loved one with Down syndrome. Down syndrome itself was not "new" to me, I just never paid much attention until Judah was born. My family and I call other people with DS "buddies". So if we see someone with DS in public that we don't know we say "there's a buddy". It's a kindred spirit between that family and ours no matter how different we may be, we have experienced similar issues. I believe these are important to share with others. It's the reason I put myself and Judah out there so much. There just weren't enough dad's on the forefront for me to look to at the time. To new and old families, please don't be afraid to set examples for others. Thank you to those of you that I have looked to for inspiration and learn from. Keep the advocacy train rolling... we need each other wether we admit it or not. #downsyndromeawareness #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #t21 #justlistenharder #celebratedownsyndrome


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Down Syndrome Awareness Month 2017 - Week 2

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Each year I advocate for Down Syndrome Awareness by posting daily pictures of my son, students, athletes, and friends with DS on my @justlistenharder Instagram account and Facebook page. With each picture I write a short blurb about whatever is on my mind that day to advocate. Each week during October, I will post that weeks pics/blurbs here in one post. Enjoy and help spread Down Syndrome Awareness by reposting! Cheers!


#DSAM2017 Oct 14: Slow and low. One of the biggest things I am thankful for in having a kid with Down syndrome is that he has taught me to slow down. Patience is a big deal, and I don't come by it naturally. Judah is never in a hurry. He takes his time everywhere he goes. This is because processing for individuals with Down syndrome takes longer due to that extra chromosome on the 21st pair. It crowds each cell and makes everything take just a little bit longer. This is where the intellectual disability comes into play too. It's a good thing our taste in rides matches his personality. Slow it down, kick back, and take everything in. Cheers to our homie @mikeglory @usversusthem for the spin yesterday. #downsyndromeawareness #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #t21 #justlistenharder #letthegoodtimesroll #slowandlow #foreverstoked #usversusthem #headshighrideslow



#DSAM2017 Oct 13: People with Down syndrome are not always happy. They're people first, so they experience all the same emotions as the rest of us. Being "happy all time" is just an expression of their unapologetic love for life. Trust me, they're not happy all the time! But who wants to see a negative picture of stubborn pouting or defiance? Here's one of my former students (whom I miss very much) loving the heck out of life! Cheers! #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #T21 #dsam2017 #justlistenharder #inclusion #specialeducation #downsyndromeawareness



#DSAM2017 Oct 12: My friend @deriksnell is a tattoo artist. He sent me a text a couple days ago informing me that he would be tattooing a client with Down syndrome. I was stoked to hear about it and even more stoked to see the finished product. The man he tattooed is 44 years old and a big John Cena fan, so this is what Derik came up with. I like it so much, I just might have him put one on me the next time I see him. So rad! Happy #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #T21 #dsam2017 #justlistenharder #deriksnell #deriksnelltattoos


#DSAM2017 Oct 11: This is one of the coolest kids I know! Much of the time he has no time for me because he's too busy with all of his many friends on campus. I actually love that about him as I will always encourage my students to get out and make friends with their gen ed peers. When my son was born 12 years ago, I had no idea just how awesome the world I was introduced to actually is. As the years have unfolded, each one has it's own stoke worthy events and new friends, like my dude here, we make along the way. I'm grateful everyday for the life we have and the people we get to celebrate it with. Take cues from my man here and open your heart to new people. Especially if they happen to have Down syndrome or other special needs. Happy #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #T21 #dsam2017 #justlistenharder



#DSAM2017 Oct 10: Just a reminder to think before you speak. Using the word(s) retard(ed) is inconsiderate and hurtful. The meaning has changed negatively over the years from a diagnosis to a put down. Please consider changing your vocabulary by getting rid of the R word. Down syndrome is a chromosomal issue. With it comes varying degrees of intellectual disability, and varying degrees of rad and amazing stuff too. We don't refer to it as "mental retardation" anymore because it sounds primitive and ignorant. Wise up suckas! #downsyndromeawarenessmonth!! #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #T21 #dsam2017 #justlistenharder



#DSAM2017 Oct 9: Often people with Down syndrome are born with and/or develop medical issues. There's several common issues such as cardiac, kidney, eye, and ear/nose/throat problems. In Judah's case, he's had all of the above. His biggest issues have always been with his eyes and ears; having numerous surgeries for both. His recent (left) ear surgery at the end of July was his biggest one yet. We received the final news today that it has healed perfectly and we have a green light to perform the same surgery on the right ear. Every challenge has made the victories all the more sweet! It's moments like this one from today that give us hope and keep us stoked. Happy #downsyndromeawarenessmonth!! #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #T21 #dsam2017 #justlistenharder



#DSAM2017 Oct 8: "Work hard, stay humble." More real talk. I've been accused of "false humility" or "humble bragging" before. So let's set the record straight right out of the gate. I don't have time for that. This has never been about me. I know I'm good at what I do. I also know that I could never do any of it alone. The coworkers and admin I have the privilege of working with/for over the years is probably the biggest key to the successes WE reach for our students. I'm also very passionate, I work my tail off, I give more than I take, and I always make sure my son and students get what they need. I am not afraid to be aggressive about it when I need to either.  I also know that I'm not the best to do it, because it's never been about that. I'm also not the only one doing it. I'm just sharing my story from my perspective in hopes of spreading awareness and educating others in the process. There are fantastic teachers in just about every school all over this country. This is not a competition because there are so many students with special needs and not enough teachers. If anything, I hope what I'm doing encourages others to duplicate it wherever they are. I learn from so many myself and figure out how to implement their strategies in my corner of the world. To clarify, life is too short to play the humble card. I am a father, teacher, coach, advocate, and friend to individuals with Down syndrome and other special needs because 12 years ago I was given a son with DS. I learned that there's a lot of work to be done so that he and his buddies are educated in an inclusive and accepting environment. If sharing my story and putting myself out there pushes that effort further along, then so be it. Get on board or get out of the way! #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #T21 #dsam2017 #justlistenharder #inclusion #specialeducation


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Down Syndrome Awareness Month 2017 - Week 1

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Each year I advocate for Down Syndrome Awareness by posting daily pictures of my son, students, athletes, and friends with DS on my @justlistenharder Instagram account and Facebook page. With each picture I write a short blurb about whatever is on my mind that day to advocate. Each week during October, I will post that weeks pics/blurbs here in one post. Enjoy and help spread Down Syndrome Awareness by reposting! Cheers!

#DSAM2017 Oct 7: Embracing "standing out" is probably the best route to take. No matter how much we might try to "normalize" (whatever that is) our children with Down syndrome, they are still going to stand out. Judah was literally born with a mohawk. 12 years ago mohawks were still pretty much exclusively punk rock, so of course my only boy was born with one. AND he has Down syndrome. This quote from Dr. Seuss couldn't be more fitting for our buddies. If they don't stand out in physical appearance they do in personality and/or abilities/actions. Roll with it, embrace it, and use it to their advantage. #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #T21 #dsam2017 #justlistenharder #inclusion #specialeducation #supportspecialeducation



#DSAM2017 Oct 6: One of, if not, the best way to advocate is through inclusion. I follow three simple steps while my son and other students are learning in their gen ed classes. 1) When the teacher is teaching, they're listening with the rest of the class without support. 2) When the class is working together in groups, so are they. It's the perfect time for their peers to reteach and assist. 3) During independent study, they work on accommodated and modified curriculum that is at least somewhat related to the unit/lesson being taught according to their individual abilities, needs, and goals with as much support necessary. This means that I absolutely DO NOT advocate for 1-on-1 paraprofessional support for every student all day. I use para support during independent work. For students with Down syndrome, they absolutely CAN achieve independence, but will rely on help much of the time if adult support is hovering around them. This picture is a common sight for how this translates for Judah (in b/w plaid) during Social Studies. The top is during class lecture/instruction and the bottom is during independent work. During independent work the other students are reading and taking notes/worksheets. Judah is putting together a modified timeline where his goals of sequencing and cutting straight lines are actualized. He is not pulled out of class to do independent work, he moves to an area of the room that allows space for a para or other student to assist him. In this case it's at the back of the room, but not always for every class. So bringing this back around to #downsyndromeawarenessmonth... Judah and his other buddies with DS and special needs are with their gen ed peers throughout the day where they interact, learn, play, and build appropriate relationships just like REAL LIFE. Inclusion looks different for each student, but should be available for every student. Keep that in mind! Happy #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #T21 #dsam2017 #justlistenharder #inclusion #specialeducation


#DSAM2017 Oct 5: "Thas my team da-ee!" As soon as we got home from school yesterday we flipped on the wildcard game to root for our @dbacks. So in light of their amazing victory last night of course I had to post this shot of my dude with @dbacksbaxter at a game from last season. To tie this in with #downsyndromeawarenessmonth I just want to encourage everyone that life with a loved one with Down syndrome is pretty amazing. Can we please get away from the misconception that "they'll never be able to talk appropriately or lead normal happy lives" already!? What is normal anyway? Few things make my dude happier than going to a Diamondbacks game! I'd say we're making our way in life just fine.  I would not trade this kid for anything! #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #T21 #dsam2017 #justlistenharder


#DSAM2017 Oct 4: We had some unintentional twins yesterday! As I watched them throughout the day I realized the US flags on their shorts really symbolized one of the best things about our country. With all of its faults, stained history, and current issues, the United States embraces all people. It also provides for and takes care of those with disabilities really well. I am thankful to live in a country that values the lives of those with special needs. I am grateful to have the choice to be a teacher and spread awareness. Our "systems" are far from perfect. However, I have learned that real change starts with the individual. If we focus on our own corner of the world, that's what sets things into motion. Right now our world could use a lot more of this right here! We could stand to learn from our buddies with Down syndrome daily and hand out hugs and acts of kindness freely and without reserve. My life is better because these dudes are a part of it. Happy Wednesday! Happy #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #T21 #dsam2017 #justlistenharder #inclusion #specialeducation



#DSAM2017 Oct 3: "High tide raises all ships." When we raise awareness for Down syndrome we are advocating for all people with special needs. How? Because when our communities are faced with differences, the conversation is on the table. People become more aware and accepting of individuals with special needs. At the school level we are constantly looking for inclusive practices. Our students are with their general ed peers for most of the day. Like it or not, they are forced to think outside of their comfort zones and interact with my students. Ideally they help them in their classes and build friendships. So when I advocate for one, I'm advocating for all of our amazing differences! Here's the latest picture of my boys! #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #T21 #dsam2017 #justlistenharder #inclusion #specialeducation



#DSAM2017 Oct 2: Real talk, I pick my dudes clothes out and help him dress every morning. Our loved ones with Down syndrome have the odds stacked against them when it comes to being made fun of and picked on. The last thing I'm going to do is put Judah in some busted clothes. It's just another reason to potentially be made fun of. I make certain he's clean, looks good, and smells good all day every day. #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #T21 #dsam2017 #justlistenharder



#DSAM2017 Oct 1: October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Each day this month I will post a picture of the buddies in my life along with something positive about Down syndrome to raise awareness. I'm playing catch up today, so this one counts as yesterday's post. It's no secret that my life is completely different because I was given this (not so) little fella here. His life opened up a whole new world for me personally, professionally, and in philanthropy. This pic is from January when we were suit shopping to lobby in DC for Special Olympics. #downsyndromeawarenessmonth #downsyndromeawarenessmonth2017 #trisomy21 #T21 #dsam2017 #justlistenharder


Monday, February 20, 2017

Betsy DeVos, Lobbying, and the Polarizing Online Political Climate.

Judah and I recently returned from our trip to Washington DC.  We went to lobby for Special Olympics Unified Sports.  It was a very surreal experience for me.  I don't know that I'll ever not think to myself "these people really want to hear what I have to say?"  Nevertheless, I have and will always use every opportunity offered to me to advocate for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Of course, Judah loves to travel and he loves people, so he had a great time!  He has always been along for the ride and rarely misses a beat.  The most go along, get along kid I have ever met.  On top of it all, I am so proud of who he is and for always being himself.  The following are some thoughts I have had over the past week that I needed to jot down for my own mental clarity.


The following picture was posted last week all over Special Olympics' media accounts, including their website.








Yes, that is my little dude shaking hands with newly appointed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.  Standing next to her is Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver.  As expected, it caused quite a storm of rants and raves.  I rarely pay attention to political banter on social media, but my little boy is in this picture, so I read quite a bit of the comments.  That was almost a week ago, and the dust has pretty much settled.  To my knowledge there were no negative comments made about my son.  Most of the negativity was aimed at Special Olympics for apparently "taking sides".  So for what it's worth, instead of contributing to the never ending back and forth on social media, I'm just writing my thoughts here for those of you that care or found yourselves on my side of the online universe.

I'll start with some background information that led up to this picture in case you're new to our little world.  If you are new, you can follow this blog all the way back to 6 years ago when I started teaching.  But that's just too adventurous, so I'll sum it up.  If you're family or friend and already know our story, then you can skip ahead to the group picture below.  If you're Betsy DeVos, or one of her staff, please skip ahead as well to the end of this post where I have included a letter to you.

I became a special education teacher and began teaching when my son started kindergarten. I teach a K-2 self-contained class for individuals with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities at G.W. Carver Elementary School, a public school in Yuma, Arizona.  In the six years that my son and I have been at our school, together with our principal and other amazing staff, we have worked diligently toward creating an inclusive environment where all children learn together.  So the technical label “self-contained” that is attached to my class is not all together true.  My students spend large portions of their day with their general education peers.  My son has actually been completely mainstreamed for most of his elementary education.

About four years ago (Spring 2013) we were introduced to Special Olympics through the Young Athletes program.  A fantastic program geared toward the little ones that I teach at school.  It was a no-brainer for me to incorporate the Young Athletes curriculum into my classroom.  From there my involvement as a volunteer with Special Olympics began to pick up momentum.  I started coaching traditional basketball in January 2014 and Judah began participating in traditional athletics (track) that spring.

In August 2014, Special Olympics Arizona sent me to a leadership conference in Phoenix where I learned about Unified Sports.  I was disappointed to find out that Unified Sports was not typically offered at the elementary level and only for high school and beyond.  Together with our River Area director and many other volunteer coaches, we began to change that.  Now our little city in the southwestern most corner of the United States is in our second year of Unified Sports in 26 county wide elementary and middle schools. 

At my public school in particular, Unified Sports tied right in with our inclusive practices and what we were already doing to promote relationships between our students with intellectual disabilities and those without.  Currently, I organize Unified Sports at G.W. Carver Elementary School.  We have 25-30 athletes with intellectual disabilities, and a rotating roster of 40-50 partners without.  We have an amazing list of 7 coaches and over 15 other staff helpers.  Keep in mind that this is just one public school in our county.  There are 25 others that also participate.  If you are at all familiar with Special Olympics Unified Sports, then you will understand that this is truly unique and not going on anywhere else in the United States.  Only in Yuma, Arizona.

For the past 10 years Special Olympics has been sending local athletes, partners, coaches, parents, and staff to Capitol Hill to lobby for funding provided through the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services.  This funding is distributed throughout the states that participate in Unified Sports and Healthy Leap / Healthy Athletes.  Each participating state is responsible for sending a team of individuals that represent these programs.  Special Olympics organize meetings with state Senators and Representatives (or their staff) for each respective State on Capitol Hill Day.

This year, Special Olympics Arizona chose my son Judah and I, along with our River Area director, Lisa Ball, and her son Ryan (an elementary Unified partner), and two high school students Krystal Cummings and Kyla Bellville (athlete/partner) from Chandler, Arizona.  Not one of us had any prior experience lobbying.


As a public school teacher, I have my own political opinions that I have largely kept private and off of social media.  I do enjoy discussing politics and religion in person, but never online.  This past election has been especially polarizing.  I have been disheartened by the hatred and slander thrown by both sides.  For the record, I was not in favor of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.  Not because I believe she is a bad person (as people have painted her to be), but rather because she doesn’t have experience in public education.  She is a staunch supporter and advocate for charter and private schools.  Again, that does not make her "the enemy", it just means we have someone in charge of our education system that has never really supported it.  Take it for what it's worth, but that's basically why I have not been on her side.

On the evening of Tuesday February 14th Special Olympics hosted a dinner for the 40 states that came to Washington DC to lobby for Unified Sports and Healthy Athletes.  We knew our chairman Tim Shriver would be there to give a speech.  We had no idea, however, that newly appointed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, would also be in attendance.  There was tension in the air, to be sure.  With the political climate the way it is right now.  Each one of us there that night, no matter what political persuasion, gave her respect and listened to what she had to say.  Afterward, Secretary DeVos and Chairman Shriver mingled about the room and met with people sitting at each table.  Our Arizona team was seated at a table situated more toward the back of the room.  By the time DeVos and Shriver were close to us, they were pretty well done and ready to leave.  As a public school teacher (and probably one of the only few in the room) I already had in mind what I wanted to say to DeVos and was truly hoping to get a minute of her time to do so.  That didn’t happen.  Instead she took time to meet my 11 year old son with Down syndrome, a Unified athlete, and his 9 year old friend Ryan, a Unified partner.  Which brings us to the infamous picture most of you are now familiar with, one of our Special Olympics athletes shaking hands with Secretary DeVos.

In reply to those of you that commented and shared this picture all over social media and abroad I’d like to refer you to this article first and then make a few points:


  1. Special Olympics are a non-partisan organization.  In the weeks leading up to our lobbying, Special Olympics made this very clear.  We were told in writing, email, conference calls, and in person that we are there to represent Special Olympics only, and to never side with or take any political stance otherwise while in DC.  Additionally, Special Olympics serve individuals with intellectual disabilities.  We should all keep in mind that our loved ones with ID are born to families all over the world from every different cultural, political, and religious background.  It benefits no one to take sides within the confines of Special Olympics.
  2. We learned that in the 10 years Special Olympics has been lobbying at Capitol Hill Day; Betsy DeVos is the first Secretary of Education to attend our dinner, though former Secretaries were invited.  That alone speaks volumes.  She made the effort, on Valentines Day nonetheless.
  3. A portion of funding for Unified Sports is provided through the Department of Education.  Regardless of which political party the Secretary of Education is with, it would benefit all involved for the appointed Secretary to attend.  At the very least, they are putting faces and stories to what that funding goes toward.  This is a positive move across the board.
  4. Betsy DeVos made the following statement to us that night: “I am proud to stand beside you as a partner in support of Special Olympics and its Unified Champion Schools, an important program that promotes leadership and empowers students to be agents of change.” You can bet that we need to and will hold her to that. However, if she is in fact trying to take away funding for students with special needs, then that would qualify her as a bully and go against her statement. I am not convinced that she is a bully, but for arguments sake, lets say she is.  As an educator I have to deal with bullying all the time.  I have found the best method to stop bullying is to get the bully involved with the student(s) they are victimizing.  Over the past six years I have witnessed many bullies become friends and advocates for those they bullied.
  5. Before you jump to conclusions and bash me on social media please note that I am a public school teacher and my son, with Down syndrome, has been educated in the public school system for the past 6 years.  I do not side with either popular political party and did not vote for the Trump or Clinton administration in the past election. 
  6. I choose to live my life largely by example.  Doing something goes much further than saying something.  There are a great many things that need to change in our country.  Have we not learned yet that blasting one another over social media is not an avenue for positive change?  We all have our own corners of the world, and it is our job to begin there.  Special Olympics is an amazing organization that puts our athletes with intellectual disabilities first.  That has never been in question, and it shouldn't be now.  They did the right thing by inviting DeVos and allowing her to meet Special Olympics delegates from 40 states.

To Secretary Betsy DeVos,

Thank you for taking the time to attend our dinner.  Thank you for your speech and attaching your own personal story to it.  Thank you for your words of support and encouragement.  Thank you for taking the time afterwards to speak with those of us in attendance. 

As a public school teacher, I earnestly tried to get a minute of your time.  You chose to meet my son Judah and his friend Ryan instead.  In retrospect, I am thankful that you did, because I want you to remember their faces every time you need to make decisions regarding public education.  We will hold you to your promise to stand beside us as a supporter of Special Olympics and Unified Champion Schools.

I honestly wish you the best, and I hope your term, as Secretary of Education is fruitful for all of our students, including those with intellectual disabilities.  Please understand there are many teachers, like myself, in public schools doing everything we can to provide more than just a “free and appropriate” education.  Unified Sports is a major catalyst in that effort by providing positive avenues for students to develop inclusive relationships and promote an overall atmosphere of inclusion in their schools.

Sincerely,


Jarrod Norris
G.W. Carver Elementary School
Yuma, AZ