Inclusion Fosters Awareness, Acceptance For High Schooler
Audrey Booher is a typical high school student, full of spunk and sass. While she has the same hopes and dreams as other girls her age, there are aspects of her life that are very different. But what sets her apart from her contemporaries has fueled her determination to blaze her own trail.
Audrey was born with Down Syndrome, a genetic disorder caused when abnormal cell division results in extra genetic material from chromosome 21. The condition cannot be cured, but intervention programs with teams of therapists and special educators are helpful in managing the disorder.
The 18-year-old is currently enrolled at Tyler Consolidated High School. Thanks to her teachers, aides and school administrators, she is not only managing her condition, she is thriving in an environment that fosters acceptance and awareness through inclusion.
Audrey’s mother Jeanie says inclusion has been extremely important for her daughter. “I think it’s paramount that Audrey be given opportunities to shine to her fullest potential,” she stated. “But inclusion is not just important to those with special needs, it’s also important to give our society the opportunity to become knowledgeable about the ‘abilities’ not just the ‘disabilities’ that can allow the special needs person to thrive as very viable members of our communities. If society is never exposed to these individuals, then they will never know the gifts they have, and we all lose.”
According to a summary of evidence on inclusion education published in 2016, there is clear and consistent evidence that inclusive educational settings have lasting benefits for students with and without disabilities. Furthermore, among students with Down Syndrome, there is evidence that the amount of time spent with peers is associated with a range of academic and social benefits, such as improved memory and stronger language and literacy skills.
Furthermore, co-teaching in a general education classroom makes it easier for students with disabilities to be taught the same material as their classmates. Because inclusion classrooms are filled with diverse learners, these environments also allow students to talk about the different ways they learn, thus reducing stigma for students with special needs.
Inclusion also brings about higher expectations for students with disabilities.
With this in mind, Audrey’s teachers worked diligently to implement programs to instill a sense of pride and purpose in their students, while introducing them to real-world tasks. One way they achieved this was through a coffee cart program used to reinforce life skills and responsibly. Audrey quickly became one of the program’s shining stars, earning the distinction of “Employee of the Month” in the early days of the cart.
Dubbed Cafe 1-2-3, the program became very popular among teachers, administrators and service personnel. So popular, in fact, one coffee pot wasn’t enough to keep up with the demand. So, the teachers and aides reached out to friends to request a donation for a second coffee pot. Within the hour the need was met and then some by Delegate David Kelly who donated two, new coffee pots and a carafe to the program.
Aside from her involvement with the success of the school’s coffee cart, Audrey is very active in the Tyler FFA Chapter.
Following in the footsteps of her siblings was very important to the teen. “Audrey wanted so much to wear that blue and gold jacket, just like her older siblings and friends,” her mother explained. “So, with the help of many wonderful and supportive people, she began sell FFA fruit to earn a jacket of her very own.”
The blue jackets worn by members is part of the official dress for the National FFA Organization. To a member, donning the iconic blue, corduroy frock symbolizes the pride and tradition that unite thousands of members, past and present. “That jacket means the world to a member of the FFA,” Jeanie commented. “But I don’t think it has ever meant more for anyone than it has for Audrey.”
In fact, when Audrey was presented her jacket by Mr. Leon Ammons, the look of appreciation and awe on her face brought several members to tears.
The Boohers are thankful to live in a school district where inclusion and acceptance of individuals with special needs is a big focus for teachers and students alike. “They are always glad to involve Audrey whenever they are given the opportunity to do so,” Jeanie remarked.
In March, Audrey participated in the observance of World Down Syndrome Day, a day set aside to promote awareness and advocate for inclusion. In accordance with this day, people from all over the world sport mismatched or crazy socks. The people in Tyler County were no exception.
“As far as I know Audrey is the only student with Down Syndrome currently enrolled in the county school system,” Jeanie recalled. “But only having one student did not stop her peers, the school staff and the community from taking advantage of an opportunity to show their support.”
Many local people posted photographs on Facebook in honor of Audrey, and one local pizza shop – Boggs Pizza and Grill – even requested their entire staff wear crazy socks while they worked their shift that day. Audrey even received a police escort around the school by Tyler County School Resource officers Mitch Corley and Tammy Satterfield, who also included “crazy socks” as part of their official uniform.
“Audrey certainly isn’t the only person with Down Syndrome in Tyler County,” Jeanie said. “But thanks to a very supportive community, law enforcement officers, teachers and peers, she was made to feel very special.”
Still, with all the positive reinforcement throughout Tyler County, continued advocacy is needed to further bridge the gap between those who are viewed as able and those who are not. “We have a great little community, but we still need to educate society [as a whole], so people with special needs are given the credibility and respect they deserve,” Jeanie concluded.