From Basketball to MusicalsSeptember 15, 2022
Seton Catholic Preparatory is Facing Fears to Ignite InclusionSeptember 21, 2022
A Family’s Journey Into the Unknown
Jennifer Kohl has been at Seton Catholic Preparatory longer than most. In her 19 years at the small Catholic high school in Chandler, AZ, she has worn many hats: first student, now faculty and parent. In 2019, the school’s leadership and staff took a deliberate step toward inclusion by launching its Academic Resource Center (ARC), a program for students with disabilities which Jennifer launched with the support of the school’s leadership and staff. Seton now serves ninety students with disabilities. Today, she tells us about her family’s own journey into the unknown of special education.
Today, I lead Seton Catholic Preparatory’s program for students with disabilities. But just a few years ago, I was a mother scared of what a learning disability diagnosis could mean for my own child.
Navigating a New Diagnosis
We knew early on that my brilliant child needed extra support. Fortunately, our private school teachers were wonderful. While my child had no official support or diagnosis, the teachers gave our family what we needed. Eventually though, our coping skills wore out.
For too long, I hunkered down at home shouldering the weight of trying to “reeducate” my child using methods that made all the difference for her. It was working, yet we were sacrificing our evenings, social lives, sports involvement, and sleep. Something needed to change.
Our school’s community grew and became increasingly aware of diagnoses, IEPs and support, yet I was still terrified to take that unfamiliar path for my child. What if they evaluated her, found nothing, and then left us on our own with no support? What if they found something; what would that mean? How would this change our family? How would this change my child?
Thankfully, these fears did not prevent us from making the best choice. Our child was evaluated and received an official diagnosis of a learning disability in math and reading. Armed with this information, we partnered with the school’s new special educator and the principal to develop supports for our daughter. Suddenly we had a roadmap in front of us, and it was such a relief.
Stepping into the Unknown
As a parent, I’ve watched my brilliant child try to keep up with typical students. As a school staff member, I’ve seen the incredible effort that goes into building paths to reach a student’s brilliance. With that, I believe the biggest obstacle to a truly inclusive education is the fear of the unknown.
Parents, just like me, are unsure if they want to take this path for their child. Teachers wonder if they can truly serve students with disabilities. Schools are concerned about how inclusive learning will change their community. The unknown is scary. But, in my experience, it’s also where the magic happens.
It’s hard to move toward what we don’t know or have experience in, and it’s just as difficult to overcome our preconceived notions of what students, teachers, schools “should” look like. But a learning environment that supports inclusion is built piece by piece, day by day, and person by person. I’m so grateful for the parents, students, teachers and staff in my school and others who are completing this life-changing work.