As teenagers in high school, one of the main issues we witness is the exploiting, excluding and downright ignoring of certain students. A major group that is affected by harassment is the students in the special education program. Our school, Colts Neck High School in Colts Neck, NJ, has a large population of students with special needs, which causes discrepancies among students. We realize that the students who take the abuse are affected not only in school, but in their everyday lives. It is hard for “abled” teenagers to put themselves in the shoes of a peer with a disability. As students in the Law and Public Service Learning Center at Colts Neck, one of our classes is a “Senior Seminar” which focuses on the idea of service learning and how we can grow through helping others. The four of us formed the group SHINE (Students Helping to Integrate, Notify and Educate) in order to spread awareness and tolerance of those with different abilities. We have three distinct goals within our project: to become involved in our own school’s special education program, to teach tolerance and acceptance to young middle school students, and to help fundraise and work with the National Inclusion Project.
Though our own school has a very well-established special education program already, we want to get more students involved with it. Team SHINE has joined the Peer Mentoring program at Colts Neck, and every Wednesday we come in early to help two students in the Newspaper Club. At the end of November, we will help with an event called Friend’s Fest ’09 in which students with special needs, Peer Leaders, and Peer Mentors come together to teach students about bullying, friendship, and behavior.
Often, children can be ignorant or even hateful towards those who are different from them, and we feel it is our responsibility, as informed and aware teenagers, to introduce a positive influence and attitude. By going to local elementary and middle schools with an age-appropriate lesson plan that we created, we hope to teach acceptance while it is early enough to prevent negative behavior that further develops in high school and beyond. We plan to utilize the National Inclusion Project’s children’s book, Our Friend Mikayla, for younger elementary school students, and films such as Including Samuel and I Am Tyler, Don’t Be Surprised for the older students. In just a short amount of time, it is possible to change the outlooks of these children and our peers.
When we began this project, we were looking for a national organization that was in a support of a great cause, but not getting the attention it deserved in our area. The National Inclusion Project is exactly what we were trying to find; it is an amazing cause that can truly benefit the lives of many families, yet it is not especially well-known in our area. Our ultimate goal is to raise funds and awareness for the National Inclusion Project that can go towards its many important endeavors, but we also want to use our efforts to bring attention to the organization and establish it as a well-known presence in this area. If we can do this, even when our individual project has been completed, the organization will still have steady support and we will have made a lasting impact.
While it is only early November, our group has already gotten the year off to a great start. In October, we organized a bake sale at our school, accepted donations, and started a fund for National Inclusion Project. At the end of the year we will send all donations to the organization. Soon, we will participate in Wrapping for Inclusion in our area with some local supporters of the Project. This will be a great way to get involved and spread awareness during this busy time of year. We also plan to spread awareness in our school of specific disabilities by providing information in different ways each month. By continuing our work, we will be able to shine a light on this important issue for which we all share a passion.
We are open to any ideas and would love to help this cause in any way we can. Feel free to contact us with any information or event ideas at ProjectShineCNHS@gmail.com. To find out more about the National Inclusion Project visit www.inclusionproject.org. We appreciate all support and are excited to continue our efforts this year!