It was one of those emails that catch your attention. Mauricio, then a fifteen-year-old student in a Brazilian school, sent an elegantly worded statement about how he taught himself English so that he could realize his dream of attending a university in the United States. Mauricio had been studying our website and, as he believed our school’s values were aligned with his, was determined to join our learning community. What I did not know at the time was that Mauricio was going to forever change our community’s perspectives on learning and our understanding of the world around us.
Mauricio’s application for admission to our high school was the first we had received from a blind student. While Mauricio did not seem to be concerned that his blindness would limit his learning, a reflection of his indomitable spirit that I quickly learned to admire and appreciate, our faculty did raise several valid questions and concerns.
The consideration of Mauricio’s application was framed and guided by a mission and set of beliefs that highlighted diversity and different learning styles as essential values. Through dialogue, learning, and understanding, the high school faculty committed to admitting Mauricio and providing him with the best educational program within our capabilities. Mauricio also supported us through this learning process and was always quick to remind us not to think of him as a blind person, but rather a person who happened to be blind.
During one of our admissions meetings, I welcomed Mauricio to my office with the greeting, “It is great to see you…” but cut myself off as I realized the insensitivity of my words. Mauricio smiled warmly and replied in a manner that conveyed wisdom beyond his years, “It is also great to seeyou.” While it was a seemingly minor moment of learning, it was also emblematic of our own collective growth. I humbly shared with Mauricio how it was likely that we were going to learn far more from him than he would learn from us. And, this was in fact the case. Four years later, Mauricio graduated from Graded, the school where I previously worked, and he realized his dream of attending and graduating from a top university in the United States. It was also during this time that we grew the most as professionals and as a community.
While Mauricio was a student at Graded, we had the honor of hosting two very special people, Bill and Ochan Powell, who conveyed a similar spirit of promise and a unique ability to instill an intrinsic commitment in others to be the best professionals and people they can be. Bill and Ochan scheduled time after their professional learning facilitation to interview Mauricio as part of their work associated with inclusive schools. I remember clearly how our faculty and I beamed with pride and a sense of purpose when Bill and Ochan highlighted and congratulated the team for their work with Mauricio and their efforts to ensure Graded was offering a highly functioning inclusive learning program.
The following two videos present clips from Bill and Ochan’s work with Mauricio.
Interview with Bill and Ochan:
Learning in a Science Classroom:
The videos highlight Bill’s talents and concern for others and, correspondingly, one of the many reasons why there has been such an extraordinary outpouring of sorrow, love, and admiration from around the world to the tragic news of Bill Powell’s sudden passing. Bill was a remarkable individual whose impressive professional capabilities were complemented with a warm heart and deeply caring nature.
A recent exchange of emails with Mauricio highlighted the difference Bill’s vision and unwavering commitment to student learning and inclusion can make in a student’s life. The following is an extract from Mauricio’s note to me this week:
Needless to say, if it were not for my inclusion at Graded and before, I would not be where I am today. I have worked at internationally recognized corporations, attended top educational institutions abroad, learned the importance of adaptation and persistence, and demonstrated to others that blindness does not define one’s capabilities.
It all began with education – an education that was inclusive, grounded, and rigorous. It all began with teachers and administrators who believed in my potential, and who required of me the same as was required of any other student. If one has education one still faces challenges, the difference being that without it we have no solution. Blind people must be able to make any choice they wish for their future, with blindness being only a circumstance and physical characteristic. As the Olympics are held in Brazil, so will the Paralympics. We apply the inspiration and values from all athletes into our lives as much as possible so that we may continue fighting for opportunity for all people.
The message of six years ago still stands: people must ask questions, so that their doubts may be resolved. On the other hand, those with disabilities must believe in themselves, strive for their best, and not for what seems comfortable, and never be let down by expectations by others. Others may not know our full potential, but I find that most people will be allies if we help them help us. And, schools cannot do it alone – families must understand that disabilities shall never define where one wishes to go.
I am deeply grateful to Mauricio and Bill and Ochan Powell for the real difference they have made in our lives. Looking ahead, we hope to honor Bill’s significant contributions to the field of education and his dedication to the lives of others by ensuring a collective commitment to furthering his vision of inclusive schools where diversity, difference, and all learning styles are valued within the context of a plurality of thought and perspectives. Next Frontier Inclusion’s mission must also be our own: “to promote and protect the interests of children who learn in different ways or at different rates.” This is our moral obligation to Mauricio and all of the students, families, and communities we have the privilege of working with at our schools.
Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr photo by lee: like a record… https://www.flickr.com/photos/leecullivan/240389468/