Lee-Davis High School
BY: USA GAMES CORRESPONDENT, MIKE GASTINEAU
If you work at a high school and you’re interested in growing or improving the programs within your school that are geared towards helping kids with intellectual disabilities, you would be well advised to take a look at what’s happening at Lee-Davis High School in Mechanicsville, Virginia.
Sara Salvato is one of the teachers in the school’s Functional Academics program. The program is designed to reach the 21 students enrolled at Lee-Davis who have intellectual disabilities or autism. According to Salvato, the buy-in level among everyone at the school when it comes to the idea of inclusion is remarkable.
“It speaks to the character of our school, of the staff and the students, that they want their peers all to be included,” Salvato said. “They don’t want to see them sitting on the sidelines at sports events. They don’t want to see them sitting alone in their classes. They want them to have the same opportunities they have.”
Examples are literally everywhere you look. Lee-Davis has a Champions Together program that partners varsity track athletes with track athletes who compete in Special Olympics. The two teams will occasionally practice together. Lee-Davis HS has an all-star basketball team for students with intellectual disabilities and that team is sponsored by the school’s varsity girls’ basketball program. The school’s cheerleaders sponsor a similar squad comprised of students with intellectual disabilities.
“Our kids are always being included,” Salvato said. “They are representing our school and it takes a lot of people in our building to make that happen.”
But it’s more than just sports. Salvato says elective teachers at the school welcome students into their classes and willingly tailor the curriculum to make sure all needs are being met. The school also has been supportive of the implementation of school-based businesses run by the students. Salvato lends her name to one of the businesses.
“The students sell baked potatoes to faculty members every other Friday during the school year,” she said. “We call it Salvato’s Potatoes and we sell approximately 80 potatoes every time we do it. We also have a coffee cart and our students deliver coffee and muffins to teachers once a week, and they sell cookies to their peers during lunch.”
Those cookie sales obviously spur a lot of conversation between students about academics, upcoming sports events, and weekend plans. But while the social interaction created by these businesses is huge, it’s something else the students learn that is the real benefit, according to Salvato.
“It helps them develop social skills and problem-solving. We’ll set up situations where someone is paying using all change or trying to pay with an expired gift card. Our kids have to work through these situations and in doing so they are developing the kind of skills they’ll need to get a job.”
Salvato is proud of the school-wide effort that’s been made to connect her students with the entire Lee-Davis population and says she know several other schools in Virginia that have the same philosophy and attitude when it comes to inclusion. She credits our increasingly connected world for that.
“I think social media has a lot to do with it,” she said. “People see what other schools are doing, and what they’re getting out of it. They see that a little kindness goes a long way and that just because students have a disability doesn’t mean they don’t have ability. When you include everybody you find out that people often have the same ability as you, they just may go about things in a different way.”