December 2012 Oregonian

December 2012 Oregonian

The Oregonian published an editorial about The Shadow Project:

Click to view the original article on the OregonLive website in a larger window.


Or read a copy of the article below:

Close the achievement gap for special education kids

December 7, 2012
By Christy Scattarella
In the recent article on Oregon’s dismal diploma tally, a promising group of students with the state’s lowest on-time graduation rate was conspicuous by its near absence (“State ranks near back of class in graduation,” Nov. 28).
At 74,000-plus, special education students constitute Oregon’s fourth-largest school-age population, but in 2011 fewer than one in two (42 percent) of these youngsters graduated with their class. That’s considerably lower than the 54 percent of African American and 58 percent of Latino graduates cited in the article. Oregon ranks seventh worst in the nation for graduating special education students. By contrast South Dakota awarded diplomas to a whopping 84 percent of its students with special needs.
Another 10 percent of our students did earn what’s known as a modified, or special education, diploma. Much as I’d like to include them in graduation rates, Uncle Sam won’t let me: When calculating high school graduates, the federal government essentially lumps these students in with the dropouts. In other words, they don’t count.
Children with barriers to learning, such as ADHD, dyslexia, autism and communications disorders, do count. Their struggles matter, and so do their accomplishments. All too often they get left out of discussions aimed at helping at-risk children. More than once I’ve heard, “Well, what can you expect?”
We can expect a lot. As the director of a nonprofit that teams with special educators to help close the achievement gap and as the parent of a recent college graduate who was in special ed from first grade on, I know that children with learning differences have enormous potential.
Here are three simple things we can all do to shine the spotlight on our most vulnerable children and help them succeed.
Recognize their courage. As long as the term “special education” remains code for “there’s something wrong with you,” these children will continue to be diminished. I am forever haunted by Josh, a bullied third-grader who told his teacher, “I’m so stupid I wish I’d never been born.” It’s time to replace shame and stigma with appreciation. Let’s celebrate the differences that make all of us unique.
Understand they have what it takes. Children in special education are as diverse as the rest of the population. Whether they have a genius IQ or an intellectual disability, they are all capable. They simply learn differently.
Make them part of the equation. Include them in every discussion and initiative designed to better the graduation rate.
Yes, children with learning differences stumble more than the average kid. Their struggle to read, to write and to belong can become too much. And as the statistics attest, they often give up, on school and on themselves. But our collective belief in their potential can become their belief.
I have seen what happens when these students persevere. I have seen them develop an inner fortitude and depth of spirit that cannot be measured on a standardized test but will serve them and their community well — for a lifetime.
Count on that.
Christy Scattarella is the founder and executive director of The Shadow Project, a nonprofit named for her son’s dog that has teamed with special ed teachers to help more than 6,500 children become confident, engaged learners. She is also the author of “The Boy Who Learned Upside Down” (Black Heron Press, 2013).
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The Shadow Project site administrator.
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