I grew up in a small town in Ohio in the 1960s and 70s, at a time and place where everyone strove to be the same.
Everyone (and I mean everyone) had 2 parents, owned a modest home and went to church. But I was different. My father died after I was born, my Mom had a different last name from remarriage, and my two aunts (one of whom wasn’t actually related) helped raise me. I experienced great love as a child but there was an underlying sense that being different was somehow “bad.”
Years later I had a son who was diagnosed with ADHD at age four. I call him my “very” child. He’s very smart, very active, very impulsive, very determined, and “different.” I’ve experienced the heartbreak of raising a distinctive child when staff at schools, camps, and child care programs want kids to be the same.
In 2000 I took a job at the New Jersey Department of Human Services and had the pleasure of leading the Map to Inclusive Child Care Team. From the Team I learned about accommodations, laws, and most importantly the philosophy that Inclusion is Belonging.
I no longer work in state government, but I continue the mission to promote inclusion, especially in afterschool and summer programs.
I’ve become a researcher, evaluator, and presenter and everywhere I go I talk about the potential of out-of-school settings to create places of belonging, not just for students with special needs, but for all kids who need the reassurance that being different is OK.
For breakfast I had plain Greek yogurt, granola, and dried cranberries. It’s snowing in Jersey today and I’m looking forward to summer and the beach.
Author Profile: @janesharp