Shelley Hislop and Naomi Herron get to go to a special place every day. A place full of love, lots of laughter, innocence and acceptance. In this place, no one points fingers at anyone, no one makes fun of anyone, and no one intentionally excludes anyone from conversations. This place is their Pre-K class at Nachman Elementary where Shelley is the teacher and Naomi her paraprofessional. But it’s not just any Pre-K class, this class is an Inclusion Class, and the name belies exactly the atmosphere in the classroom—everyone is included. It’s comprised of fourteen students, about one-third of whom are special needs children.
I had the opportunity to go to this special place when Shelley asked if I would bring our pet bunny, Pepper, to visit the week before Easter. I went there to share my pet with them, but what I got was a lap full of love, lots of hugs and they even petted me. These children were so accepting of not only my pet and me, but of each other. They had no regard for disability (mental or physical), color, or shortcomings; they treat each other equally. They each took turns petting the bunny and sat waiting patiently for their turn—I never heard “He’s taking too long! I want my turn.” They were content to watch their fellow classmates explore the wonders of bunny-isms until it was their turn. Some were shy about petting her, others asked questions like: “Why are her ears so close together on top of her head?” But no child ever ridiculed another for being shy or asking questions, much less for any disability they might have. Even Pepper seemed to feel the love and acceptance in the room. Normally, she doesn’t like people in her face, yet she let the children feel her whiskers, her feet, her ears and even rub their faces on her. It was as if she knew that this was a safe place where no harm would come to her.
As adults, there was a time in our lives when we were that innocent and accepting. When did that change? How do we get it back? As adults, the innocence will never come back; but in its place, we now have experience. With that experience we are armed with the tools to make decisions. We can choose to be judgmental of others or we can choose to be understanding. We can choose to be consumed by our little worlds or we can choose to reach out to others. Bunnies and children don’t have to make those choices; these are characteristics that just come naturally to them. We could learn a lot from bunnies and children. Thank you Mrs. Shelley and Mrs. Naomi for being a positive influence in these children’s lives. Thank you for allowing Pepper and me to be a part of your special place for a few moments one Spring morning.