Posted May 31, 2019 | General
My apologies to the staff and students of Thomas Jefferson Elementary School because this should have been shared much sooner, but I needed to give it the time and attention of which you are all so deserving. I am so very honored, and I’m sure Mikayla is smiling.
Over the 2017-18 school year Mikayla and I had the honor of working with two classes at TJ on a Wheels of Friendship inclusive art project. Having brainstormed ideas that honored both their school’s namesake as well as their commitment to inclusion, the artists decided to paint a scroll with a meaningful quote by Thomas Jefferson. They discussed what a proclamation is, how everyone who adds their signature is in agreement, and gave careful consideration to what their scroll should proclaim. Having considered three different quotes by Thomas Jefferson, the students selected one from which they extracted: “A difference is never cause for withdrawing from a friend.” Sweet, right? But it gets better…
Typically, we wrap the finished canvases onto wood frames and return the final art to be unveiled and gifted to the school during an inclusion assembly. We always recognize the artists, but we were able to do much more at TJ since the principal and classroom teachers allowed an extra visit to plan for their students to play a bigger role in the assembly. We sat together and asked them how they would like to be involved. Almost every student chose to read a page of “Our Friend Mikayla.” Several students with hearing impairments read in sign language with an interpreter speaking for the audience. It was a valuable experience for the hearing students to be in need of an interpreter. Both speaking and signing students also shared what they liked about the project and why it was important to them.
Better yet, the artists concluded by inviting all their peers and teachers to sign their art, titled “Declaration of Friendship,” as a pledge that they agree to celebrate diversity and include everyone. Once everyone had the opportunity to sign, the art was displayed prominently, high on a wall in the library that is situated in the center of this open concept building, for all to enjoy. Principal Tracey Hirner promised that, “The scroll continues to inspire us as we often reference it in teachable moments with kids.” End of story? Read on…
Most recently, I received an email that read, “We want to let you know that Mikayla’s legacy is still thriving at Thomas Jefferson. We would love to have you over to present you something.” Happy to be invited, I listened as two fifth grade students shared the following:
“We invited you here today to express the lasting impact that Mikayla and the mission of Mikayla’s Voice has had on TJ. Mikayla’s Voice continues to be heard at TJ and we wanted to honor what she stood for in a sustainable way. Beginning this year and moving forward, our school will be reserving a session during our Annual Arts Day Celebration that will be run by our students. Those sessions will involve our kindergarten classes having Mikayla’s book read to them with follow up discussion about the meaning of inclusion and ultimately creating a yearly canvas to be signed and hung in our library.”
And last, but never least, the kindergarten students shared what it means to include others and presented me with drawings representing Mikayla’s story. On the back of each was their sentence about inclusion. Amazing, but not everything…
Soon after, I received an email from Ms. Hirner sharing the following video “by your kinder friends at TJ” (is that “I” a short or long vowel?)
I would say we have finally come to the end of this wonderful story but I am certain the staff and students at Thomas Jefferson will continue to share kindness and friendship with everyone who visits.