On March 3rd and 4th, I was glad to observe a classroom for severe and profound handicapped (SPH) students at one of the public schools named Inspire Community High School. In these visits I spent two hours each day observing. The first time was in the morning from 9am to 11am, and the second occasion was from 11am to 1pm. My goal was to deepen my understanding of SPH by observing this particular group of students: how they communicate with each other and others, how they learn, how they live and how/what they eat.
When I first walked in the classroom, three students were having pureed breakfast together and were fed by the main teacher and two special education classroom assistants. Four other students were done eating and waiting patiently in the classroom. There was a large table in the middle of the room and the students sat around the table in their wheelchairs. The room was decorated with colorful posters, a small carpet, a mats area, and almost every object had labels on it; for example, computer, mirror, and trash can.
During my observations, there were two female and three male Africa-Americans; one Asian male; one Caucasian male; and one Greek female student. I was eager to learn each of the student’s names, and Ms. Wendy who is the SPH teacher used a voice output device to help them to communicate with me. This plastic rectangular device has two build-in recorders and allowed the user to record his or her voice and to put/change two laminated illustrations on top of the device. For example, Ms. Wendy attached one card which said, “What is your name?” and another image said, “My name is…” Also, under each graphic Ms. Wendy could record her voice of “What is your name?” and “My name is (a student’s name)”. Suddenly, this device became the students’ voice as if they were talking to me. I asked one of the students what his name was, and Ms. Wendy pressed a button which said, “My name is Tyrone.” Then she pressed another button which asked me, “What is your name?” And then it was my turn to answer “My name is Kit” to Tyrone. The classroom was also filled with lots of technological devices to help the students to learn. For example, students could learn on a computer instructed by the teacher by pressing a giant plastic green button which was a mouse. It was called a switch. Different computer games could help individual student according to their needs to practice his or her visual and hearing skills. Besides using technology, Ms. Wendy also used magazines, story books, color papers with pictures, and objects with various textures to teach her students through their senses.
I noticed there were several things the students have in common: they all sat in the wheelchairs, could not talk, needed help with using a pair of scissors or a paint brush, had their own bagpack with extra clothes and attends (disposable adult incontinence products), had their own notebook (for the teacher to write down what they had learned and/or for their parents or guardians to leave comments or questions for the teacher.), no cell phone, no jewelry and used eyes contact. The students would not totally understand what the teacher said to them, but they would respond with beautiful smiles; and some would also wiggle their bodies. Even though the students could not talk, each one of them could make different vocalizations.
There were quite a few differences: seven students were wearing gym shoes and one student was wearing slippers; two of them had their names written on their shoes. Only one girl had longer braided hair, the rest of them had short hair. Furthermore, six students had at least one bent hand. Merely three students were not wearing a bib, but the rest of them had a bib around their neck because of their constant drooling. Sometimes, some of the students’ bodies would form a fetal position and they would suck their finger to find comfort.
Regarding their living situations: six of the students were living in nursing homes arranged by their parents or guardians; and two of them were living in group homes arranged by the state. All the students received transportation to and from school by a school bus which had a hydraulic lift and was provided by their nursing home or group home. Half of the class was fed by utilizing G-tubes due to their inability to chew and to shallow food. The other half of the class could eat regular food such as, chili, chicken, or macaroni and cheese; but it had to be blended or pureed so it was easy for the students to shallow. The students’ ages were from 15 to 20 years old; once they turn 22, they will be transferred to a day program with other adults.
The Inspire Community High School is tremendously aware of SPH students, and is trying its best to mix them into the general student classrooms. Throughout my observation, I had a chance to observe how general and SPH students had an art class together. Although both types of students were sitting separately, they were all in one big classroom doing paper mache masks. The purpose of this was to let the SPH students have contact with other people; and for the general students to know that there are people like SPH and to learn they should not be ignored but included in school and society.
In conclusion, every SPH student had their own unique characteristic: Jonathan likes people and likes to hug them. Jenny likes to walk even though she is still having trouble balancing herself. Jessie is a quiet lady who loves to look at people and gives them a smile. Yvette likes to read and could answer yes and no by blinking her eyes (one blink means yes and two blinks mean no). Keith is a deep thinker. Tim likes to sleep. Tyrone and Darren like to wiggle their bodies and often laugh when people interact with them. I would like to thank Ms. Wendy for explaining her SPH students’ lives to me and also thank the Inspire Community High School for their mission that is to always give a sense of belonging to the SPH students, to realize that they are valuable and are capable of doing many things. It was a great experience for me to spend my time with all these wonderful people; and I will never forget those beautiful smiles which were on each of the students’ face.
Note: For privacy reason, all names (including high school) has been changed. Also, the location of the high school is not mentioned.
Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.
You posted two new articles. Congratulation!
This very good article. It is so important to smile each other. When I've be getting old, I'm not smiling or laughing too much. I should think about this. Thanks! Hiroko from House of the Rock