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Evanston Citizens for Appropriate Special Education (CASE) provides advocacy, support and education to improve the lives of Evanston families impacted by disability.


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As your kids return to school, the welcome back speeches and emails can sometimes feel a bit hollow.  Are our families embraced, recognized and celebrated as part of the larger student body?   Although the following essay is focused on ETHS, the same kind of messaging holds true in District 65.  Do you feel included in the mantra "Every Child, Every Day, Whatever It Takes"?

This essay by Jill Calian offers a perspective on this issue. 

"A Welcoming Speech for The Rest of Us"

Ah, it's back-to-school! And to kick off the new school year, ETHS will welcome its new Wildkits with a rousing presentation that highlights its many achievements. ETHS will likely share its impressive rankings in U.S. News and World Report and The Washington Post, describe its Advanced Placement program, boast about the numbers of graduates admitted to prestigious colleges, and train the spotlight on its most exceptional students and athletes.
This welcoming speech will excite many students and families about the educational rigor available at ETHS and it will cultivate well-deserved pride on the part of faculty and staff. However, for the families with children not likely reach this type of uber-achievement, this message will not resonate and may instead seem rather tone-deaf to their realities. I believe that the high school is missing an opportunity to acknowledge the trials and triumphs of this large swath of the ETHS population, which includes many students with disabilities, but also many other students who for a variety of reasons, do not fit the conventional "model student" mold.  

Many more families would feel meaningfully included in the ETHS community if, in addition to touting its awards, rankings and the accolades of some of its super-star students, ETHS would say something like this when it welcomes incoming students to ETHS:
We understand that not every student in this auditorium will take AP courses, quarterback for the football team, become a semi-finalist in the U.S. Presidential Scholars program, be admitted to Harvard, or accepted into Julliard. And that's okay. ETHS is not some mythical "Lake Wobegon" high school where we pretend that all our students are "above average." We do not view "excellence" as a singular destination, but instead recognize that the path to greatness is different for everyone. Therefore, at ETHS, we pride ourselves on inspiring and supporting students to become their personal best.

For some of our students, the capstone of their high school years may be when they are named a National Merit Scholar.   For other students, particularly those who struggle with emotional challenges, just getting up and making it to school every day is a victory of sorts. We "see" those students, too, and we recognize their invisible struggles. At ETHS we celebrate when students with disabilities meet their IEP goals. We are awed by our students who surmount learning challenges. We cheer for our Special Olympians. We recognize courage in students who return to our campus after hospitalizations and strength in those who battle mental illness and addiction. We remember our students who are being educated at therapeutic day and residential schools and we consider them Wildkits just like any other ETHS student. We lift up our first generation college students, but also applaud our students who enter Transition House, enroll in vocational and technical schools, or get solid jobs after graduation.   We understand that the achievements of our students will be as different as the students themselves.
In our hallways, on our practice fields, in our labs and auditoriums, there is diversity of every kind - racial, religious, cultural, sexual orientation, gender identification, learning style, and ability. It is a key piece of what differentiates us from so many other high schools and it is what defines us. We do not simply tolerate our diversity; we celebrate it.   And we do that by honoring our students' differences, by valuing their individuality, by discovering, cherishing, and cultivating the unique and sometimes surprising gifts that they bring to our rich learning community. Rest assured that at ETHS, each and every student is a Wildkit and, pardon the pun, is part of our "pride." Welcome to this diverse, inclusive, challenging, and supportive high school.

This is only a speech - and a made up one, at that. Of course what ETHS says does not matter nearly as much as what it does. But when this basic message is communicated to the ETHS community, and most importantly, when it is backed up by resources, programming and commitment, then it will truly be a great day to be a Wildkit - for everyone.