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Inclusion Elementary Pilot Project Inspires Children with and without Disabilities to Dream Big for Their Futures E very child who has achieved his or her personal best has had a dream—a vision for the future that was nurtured by their parents, teachers and school administrators. To achieve that dream, the child’s circle of support not only encouraged that vision, but also helped the child to develop the skills, confidence, character and fortitude to achieve it. This philosophy inspired the recent development of “I Have a Dream: Creating Your Life Portfolio,” a pilot program designed by the Southeast ADA Center in collaboration with Nesbit Elementary School in Gwinnett County, the Nesbit Elementary School PTA as well as local school and community organizations to raise disability awareness and foster understanding among students while encouraging children with and without disabilities and their parents that anything is possible for their futures. The pilot program was launched in the 2011-2012 academic year and will yield a curriculum to be shared across the region and nationally. The curricula will include resource materials with relevant and current information in best practices, capacity building, resource development, and coalition building to be used by schools throughout the state, the region and by local PTAs. The Atlanta-based Southeast ADA Center, a project of the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, is one of 10 regional centers funded a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to serve as a regional resource, information and training center on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for the public, businesses, school systems and state and local governments. With a focus on its youth and family initiative, the Southeast ADA Center collaborated with Nesbit Elementary School, the Nesbit Elementary PTA, Gwinnett County Public Schools, ABEL 2, the Georgia Parent Mentoring Partnership and the Disability Resource Group (DRG), the Southeast ADA Center’s state affiliate in Georgia, to create the program to break down barriers and foster understanding for children and their parents that disability is a characteristic like brown eyes or blonde hair, not a definition of who a person is or what they can achieve. 10 The pilot project consists of three phases. The first two have been implemented with the phase three concluding in May 2012: 1. Disability Mentoring Day and Career Expo – (October 2011). In celebration of Disability Employment Awareness Month, students with and without disabilities were mentored in small groups by successful adults with disabilities from the community who have achieved their dreams personally and professionally. In addition to breaking down barriers and fostering a greater understanding of disability and persons with disabilities by youth, the program was designed to inspire all children to achieve their dreams and to dream big for their futures. Following the program, children wrote their dreams for their futures on stars that were displayed on a bulletin board at the school. 2. Parent Engagement Week – (February 2012). Coinciding with National Parental Engagement Week, the “I Have a Dream: Creating Your Life Portfolio” Parent Engagement Week celebrates and honors families of students with and without disabilities by encouraging parents, teachers, and staff involvement through family events and opportunities at school and at home. Schools understand that parents are busy people and Parent Engagement Week highlights the many different ways parents can get involved in their child’s education. No matter how little or how much time we have, there are many ways to positively impact a child’s education at school and at home. Volunteering and attending school functions are important and valuable ways to get involved, but playing a role in students’ success begins at home. For example, parents are encouraged to ask their child(ren) about school, review homework and make time for meaningful dinner conversations, trips, games, reading time, and daily routines. Teachers, staff and administrators can help in this process by maintaining good communication with parents and creating a warm, welcoming place for parents, families and community members. Continued on page 11 >> Georgia PTA « THE VOICE

Georgia PTA's The Voice - March 2012

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