My daughter was born with severe spina bifida. As such, she’s been in a wheelchair for as long as she remembers. She’s of typical cognition, as most people with spina bifida without complications usually are. Because of this, however, she’s acutely aware of the things her peers say about her at school. Per our choice, she is not sheltered from any of this. We believe in an inclusive education for her, and no one is immune to her reality. Still, kids can be cruel.
She has few friends. My daughter is a fighter, and she sticks up for herself when she needs to. It still hurts her feelings. I can see it in her face everyday. She’s tired of it, and worn out most days.
But then there was Outdoor School...
I didn’t grow up here, so I had only heard about Outdoor School as this far-off place where 6th graders went for a week. In my mind, it was just another place where my daughter would be left out. You can’t hike in a wheelchair, you can’t roll through wet fields or sit cross-legged in a circle of girls braiding hair.
It’s the first thing people notice about you. I was worried about kids from other schools making fun of her in a place where she didn’t feel comfortable and couldn’t rely on her normal allies. But she wanted to go, and I knew that if she stayed home it would put her at another disadvantage socially. Reluctantly, I let her go.
I cannot begin to tell you about the level of care my daughter received at Outdoor School. The inclusion was greater than she had ever felt in any program, and probably won’t feel that again anywhere else. Not only was her wheelchair a non-issue, she got a special all-terrain wheelchair that could go through the forest. Someone was there to push her up the hills and on the banks of the river. She got to go on hikes with her classmates to listen for birds, dip a net into a creek, and sing silly songs with her new friends. They pushed her through those wet fields, and she sat with her peers in her cabin like it was nothing. She made friends with kids from all over town, and one girl from another school became her best friend and remains so to this day.
My daughter was asked to be a part of the tree planting ceremony at the end of the week. Today, six years later, she still has her wood cookie hanging up in her room.
Outdoor School is the only program we have ever found that is truly for every child. They work tirelessly to make every kid feel welcomed; and those kids would never know there was anything different about their experience.
I applaud Outdoor School for giving this gift to my daughter and to every kid in our county since 1966. I feel deeply connected to it now. You could cut every support program for kids with disabilities and just send them all to Outdoor School. I really believe that.
Outdoor School was truly a miracle for my daughter. When she got home, she was a different person — confident and ready to take on the world. And now, as a senior in high school, she’s going off to college next year and she wants to be a teacher. Before she went to Outdoor School, I don’t think she had any concept of the future, or of hope for herself. Now she knows what she’s capable of, and I can only thank Outdoor School for that.