I went to an elementary school in Chesterfield, Virginia, during my K-2nd grade levels. The teachers taught me average grade level skills. I don’t have many specific memories of lessons that were taught, but I do have many other memories of O.B. Gates elementary school. I remember the love that was given to me by my teachers, as well as many others. My mom was a teacher at the school and she had many teacher friends that seemed to love me as though I were family. I just remember an overall love expressed from teachers, assistants, custodians, etc. that you don’t find in many schools. But there was much more to that elementary school than the staff.
When I started kindergarten I remember our class having the opportunity to help the special needs children with their lunch. One student was chosen each week to sit with one of the special needs classes and help with whatever they needed. It was also a good time to interact with the special needs students and the staff. I know I was only in kindergarten, but to this day I still recall my week in the lunchroom eating with the students. I remember feeling like I was really useful and was so happy that I could help them.
My elementary school was unique in that it taught students from pre-school to age twenty one. I also recall the principal showing our class the section of the school that was catered to teach the older students basic living skills. The one section was set up like a house- a kitchen with a working stove and refrigerator, a bedroom to learn how to make the bed, etc. You would think that a little 5 or 6 year old child would shrug it off as just another thing, but clearly I didn’t.
After I was taught about the special needs students, I wasn’t scared to pass them in the hall. I was happy to say hello even if they didn’t wave back. I looked forward to the programs that included every student, not just regular ed children. One really exciting time was listening to one special needs teen play the drums..and that boy could play!
I was only a student at O.B. Gates until 2nd grade because a new school was built in our zone, but those three years were the best elementary years. The administration and staff really took the time to teach the children about the special needs community AND included them in their education. Maybe that wasn’t the intention, but that is what I took from it.
Years later, I have my own special needs child. I can only hope to accomplish a fraction of what my elementary school did in raising awareness. I can’t think of a better thing to teach a child, not only about special needs, but about acceptance, love, compassion, and understanding of those that aren’t like you. Thank you, O.B. Gates Elementary, for teaching me more than you could ever realize.