Do you have children? What are your challenges with childhood? Can you imagine what parents face when they find out their child has a developmental exceptionality? What about when a parent learns they are unable to get all of the support through the school system their child needs because of this exceptionality, or be told that their child cannot learn to talk or read? However, can you image the happiness that parent faces when they find out there are supports available for these students? Teacher and researcher Krista McMillian spent years as an educator and witnessed first-hand how inclusion worked or did not work in a school.
“I think it’s important that we treat people with disabilities like everyone else…we have expectations of them, accommodate for them and learn more about each other too. that learning about each other and realizing that there’s not just one way of doing something is good for everybody…I think the benefit of inclusive classrooms is hopefully the foreshadowing of an inclusive world.” Parent participant in research project
McMillian saw an opportunity and applied for a one-year research grant with the McDowell Foundation to explore research with teachers, parents/guardians, and students with exceptionalities. Her research project Parent and Caregiver Voices: Experiences and Perspectives of Parents of Children with Exceptionalities gave a voice to the needs parents of children with exceptionalities in Saskatchewan schools and the community face daily. She focused on a common theme of inclusion and the benefits, not only for children with exceptionalities, but also for their peers.
McMillian connected with many families, but one family, the Kosteniuk family, struggled with inclusion due to their son’s autism. How does a parent advocate for services and have inclusive education for their child? Well, that is the story of Tracy and Paul Kosteniuk when the Kosteniuk family discovered their young boy Colby diagnosed with autism. The family made a great effort to have their son Colby learn and grow and to be included in his school. Paul said: “When Colby was first diagnosed with autism, we were told that everything would have to be specialized for him and that he would be limited in what he could do. Boy, did he prove them wrong!” After struggling for years to find ways for their son to fit into his classroom, the family turned to teachers and support staff for help. Colby’s heroes were his teachers, and now, he will be graduating from Grade 12. In addition to being a 90% student, Colby is an accomplished poet, honoured by the Saskatchewan Writing Council’s Young Saskatchewan Writers program for the best-written Grade 10 poem, “Journey Through the Mind” that describes his experiences with autism. We have reprinted his poem with his permission.
Journey Through the Mind by Colby Kosteniuk Reprinted with permission
Born in this world, from the deep, dark abyss
Of mother’s womb, no way she resists
A tiny baby with great, brown, eyes
Gazes upon his brilliant prize
Mother, father, and sister too
Looking at me say, “We love you!”
I had nothing to say, nothing to think
But I could feel their happiness link
Time passes by day and night
At age 4, things got tight
Mother took me to a place called school
To her it was fine, but to me it sounded cruel
Kids rushed inside by twos and threes
When mother left me, I began to freeze
They were all so new, all so different
I stood there motionless, all so ignorant
I wanted my family, they were all I had
Not seeing them made me feel sad
Years passed some more, and I still remained quiet
I didn’t make friends, I didn’t want to try it
I sat by myself, away from the rest
Not talking to them was for the best
Even in games, activities, and projects
I rage when failure comes and objects
At this point of my life stress attacks
My mind filled with fear left in its tracks
I thought it was because of what I found out
Autism leading me on this anti-social route
I thought it was what made me hide in my sweater
But then I believed I could do better
At age 10, something changed deep inside
My courage and will telling me I haven’t died.
I gave it a try and it got me somewhere
My popularity grew, no more despair
Overall, my life got better in the end
God friends and good skills helped my wounds mend
Now don’t be stressed you have a purpose to find
The answers will be clear in your journey through the mind
It is only possible with help from donors like you that the McDowell Foundation was able to help Krista support parents like Tracy to share their story and explain how advocating for their children, developing relationships within the school and supporting teachers can lead to better success. It is opportunities like these that may help students like Colby succeed in a classroom setting.
The McDowell Foundation creates opportunities for conversations about timely topics in education to occur in their communities in which the research takes place. “Each year we have hundreds of teachers, students, and donors like you that change the life of our students,” Ellen Whiteman, Manager of McDowell Foundation stated. “It always amazes me the impact these projects have not only on those directly involved, but also on the communities in which the research happens. While we are funding our next round of research projects, this past year we had to turn down over 15 valuable research proposals because we did not have the funds to support these projects.”
A child’s help is in your hands! Your gift of $ 60 or more will provide support to future research projects that will help us continue to enrich the lives of our children in our classrooms and the teachers who work each day t make a difference. I believe it is all our responsibility for us to see our children’s potential to succeed. I invite you to renew your commitment of your gift and to please consider giving an increased amount of $100 to help us achieve our mission.
Continually I am inspired by the dedication and generosity of the McDowell Foundations’ donors who answer the call to give to support worthy projects. I encourage you to continue to be our students’ heroes by renewing your commitment to the McDowell Foundation’s endowment.
Help improve the quality of lives of many other students and families throughout Saskatchewan. Thank you!
With deepest gratitude,
Colleen Ostoforoff, Fundraising AdministratorMcDowell Foundation