Please welcome Vera Lynne Stroup-Rentier, author with Finding My Way Books!
By Vera Lynne Stroup-Rentier
On a very hectic Monday a couple weeks ago, my daughter missed her bus. She is attending summer school at her new high school where she will be a freshman. As a result of her missing the bus, we arrived to school earlier than the bus did. So it was up to myself and her brother to find her classroom, as her ability to direct us was somewhat limited in such a big building.
When we walked in the classroom, there were at least eight adults milling around the room getting ready for the day. No one greeted us, no one said “MyaGrace you are early”, so after a few seconds I said “MyaGrace missed the bus, so she is early today”. At that time, one of her teachers said, “MyaGrace come over here, I’ll get you something to play with until the others get here”. At that point, her brother and I kissed her goodbye and left.
I left the school with a heavy heart that day because that was my first impression of what her experience at high school would be like. I had such high hopes for her high school experience to be more positive than her middle school experience was. First impressions are important. Not just for my family but for every family.
I know that I will have other positive experiences with the staff at my daughter’s high school. This would be true for many reasons. Her brothers attend that same school, I had positive experiences with schools throughout my school career and I come from a family of educators. What about other families who haven’t had those positive experiences with school? Families whose first language is not English, families whose experiences in school were mostly negative or a family member who had to navigate the school building with a physical disability after spending 15 minutes getting in and out of their van.
Would these same family members be anxious to interact with the staff at the high school again? Maybe. Maybe not. They might hesitate to attend the next school concert, would not feel welcome at PTO meeting or parent-teacher conferences. Research tells us that families from diverse cultures are not engaged in school activities to the extent other families are; maybe a place to start with all families is to think about every opportunity to interact with them as the opportunity to make a first impression.
First impressions have the power of offering a sense of inclusion. If a family or individual is welcomed into an environment, they feel like they belong there. Finding My Way Books write books honoring children with special needs or disabilities by sharing their stories. When a family member of a child with special needs or a child with special needs reads a Finding My Way book they will see themselves in the pages they read, and feel a sense of belonging. Individuals and families are an important part of their schools, their libraries, and their communities.
About the author
Vera Lynne Stroup-Rentier, author, worked in the fields of Early Childhood and Special Education as a teacher and trainer for 25 years. She has a PhD in Special Education from the University of Kansas and is currently working at the Kansas State Department of Education. Vera is passionate about the inclusion of each and every child in settings where they would be if they did not have a disability. Parenting a teen and tween with special needs enrich her life.