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overcoming obstacles 

Inclusive Education: A Personal Perspective

Keynote Address by Joseph Dunlop

Good morning, everyone! My name is Joseph Dunlop. I'm 14 years old and graduated from 8th grade on June 21st in Vernon Township. Where is Vernon, you ask? If you ski or snowboard, you have probably been to my hometown. 

I feel every honored to standing at this podium today. I want to thank Mr. Haugh from the New Jersey Department of Education for allowing me to be a keynote speaker at the Dare to Dream Conference at William Paterson University a few weeks ago, as well as today's conference. I want you to know that I have been part of an inclusive education school district since I was three years old. 

The title of my speech is " Overcoming Obstacles and Planning for My Future." You may think, he's only 12, why is he wondering about his future? Remember...the future is 5 years from now...1 year from now...and...the future is tomorrow. I look forward to attending high school in September and moving on with my education. But enough about me...let's talk about Inclusive Education, OK?

Inclusive education means that all students are able to learn, contribute, and participate in all aspects of their school. It also means that diverse students learn side by side in the same classroom and enjoy field trips and after-school activities together. 

We all share a common bond in this room. Do you know why? We either have an IEP or you work with individuals with an IEP. As you know, educators help students overcome obstacles each day. I know this because my teachers and therapists do this on a daily basis. Obstacles come in my forms and we all know that sometimes school and life can be challenging.

Personally, I sometimes have trouble staying focused. When I "zone out," I try my best to get back to work and pay extra attention to my communication skills. It's important for me to use good eye contact, be an active listener, control the volume of my voice and remember to be careful how I say my words while speaking. 

Sometimes my muscles are weak and my stamina is a problem. My physical therapist, Mr. Joe, gives me exercises to help my muscles get stronger and improve my balance.

By the way, something else that we have in common is that we know we cannot overcome our obstacles along. "It takes a village." If we're lucky, we have a village of people to lead us, to teach us, to support us, and to call us out when they know we can do better. I am very lucky to have great parents, as well as a 2 older brothers and an older sister who are always there for me. At school, I work with teachers, a speech/language therapist, and a physical therapist. 

There are also administrators - even a superintendent - who care about providing programs and services that assist me. I also have a great bus driver who starts and ends my school day with some fascinating conversations.

As a result of inclusive education, each day I am learning how to become a successful student, a skilled employee, and a strong citizen. Hopefully, one day in the future, these skills will also help me be a good husband and father. 

To overcome my obstacles, I participate in many activities. On the Special Olympics track team, my track friends motivate me to finish the race, even when I want to quit. Playing clarinet in the Glen Meadow Middle School band was enjoyable and it also helped me strengthen my lungs. 

Recently, I sand "Say Something" in my school's variety show. It was a little scary, but I felt proud of myself when I heard the applause because I achieved my goal of singing solo in front of an audience. 

We all know that it's important to have volunteer opportunities as part of inclusive education. I joined a community service group at my school named the Builders Club. We have 3-4 blood drives every year and collect items for needy families from September to June. I will continue doing this in high school with the Key Club. 

Last year, I was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society. The principal reminded all of us that being a member of this organization is not just about grades. It is also about volunteering, community service, and school involvement. 

During the past 8 years, my favorite activity is being a Boy Scout. On a camping trip at West Point Military Academy, I met Boy and Girl Scouts from all over the United States. Approximately six thousand scouts gather together from as far away as Hawaii to discover what it's like to be a soldier. We learned how to work together in teams to achieve goals and solve problems. It was an exciting weekend, plus I learned skills that will help me achieve another important goal - to earn my Eagle Scout rank in the next few years. 

May I share just one piece of advice with you for your students? I try to overcome my learning and physical obstacles by practicing strong self advocacy skills. We all need to stand up and be strong when it comes to advocating for our individual learning needs. It's not always easy, but we need to learn to be independent adults. Again, don't forget to remind your students to use their village when they need help!

The purpose of today's conference is to give us ideas about how to support each other. For me, I want to shout a very important message to the world. I would like people everywhere to get to know and see the persona and not just the disability. Can each of you do me a favor and pass on that message in your town and in you school? Thank you...I would really appreciate that!

In closing, I am sharing a quote by Ignacio Estrada, a college professor who strongly believe in differentiation. His famous quote is about the power of self-advocacy as well as the power of what this conference is all about. Inclusive Education. I hope that you love his quote as much as I do!

If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way that they learn.  - Ignacio Estrada

Enjoy the rest of the conference. Thank you for listening to me. Also, I want to shout out a special thank you to each of you for all you do for your students!