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Archive for Friday, May 12, 1995

LHS PLAY EXPLORES ISSUES OF DISABILITYINCLUSION

May 12, 1995

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A Lawrence High School theater class learns to appreciate the policy of inclusion through a new play. The students will perform ``Resolutions'' at 2 p.m. Saturday in the LHS auditorium.

Actor Jeremy Proctor plays a wheelchair-bound high school student named Leon with a disability so severe he hardly can speak.

Through a school policy of inclusion, Leon joins a regular class where verbal expression is vital. His fellow students feel ill at ease, unsure even of how to talk to him.

In this play, ``Resolution,'' art imitates life.

Jeremy Proctor is a wheelchair-bound student with a severe disability. He joined Lawrence High School's Issue Theater class, where fellow students struggled to understand him.

``What happened is that Jeremy was consistently left out of the acting exercises,'' said teacher Jeanne Averill, who invited Jeremy to join the class. ``It wasn't the way I wanted it to be.''

Written by local playwright Ric Averill, Jeanne's husband, ``Resolutions'' examines what happens when students with disabilities join a class of regular students through the mandated policy of inclusion.

Ric Averill partially based the play on the experiences of the Issue Theatre class. And in both art and life, the students gained appreciation for people with disabilities and the policy of inclusion.

``I think it's a great thing, and I think it's a great thing for people who don't have disabilities,'' said Rae Ann Scharenberg, sophomore. ``It totally opens your mind. I learned so much.''

Recent inclusion legislation mandates that schools provide the ``best, least restrictive environment'' for children with special needs. Courts have interpreted the phrase to mean the first consideration for placement should be in the classroom.

Jeanne Averill knew Proctor from an acting class she taught last school year. She invited him to participate in her Issue Theatre class last fall.

Jeremy communicates mostly through facial expressions and noises. Fellow students struggled to connect with Proctor.

Finally, Jeanne Averill asked her students to vent their concerns to Robert Rhodes, a resource teacher who accompanies Proctor to classes.

``We learned from Robert that you always put the person before the disability,'' Averill said. ``... The kids wanted to know whether we could hurt him. They wanted to know how they should talk with him.''

``What I saw after that was kids talking to him just like another kid,'' she said.

Meanwhile, Ric Averill was writing ``Resolution,'' a play about inclusion commissioned by the Lawrence school district. He based the play on the experiences of the class, although the characters in the play are less sympathetic at first to two students with disabilities.

In ``Resolutions,'' the two students -- one played by Proctor and the other by sophomore Breanna Pine, who portrays a girl with cerebral palsy -- join an elite speech class. The students think the new additions will hurt their chances at a national competition. All the students end up going.

Again, art imitates life. Averill's class has been invited to perform ``Resolutions'' in August at the American Alliance for Theatre in Education Conference in Minneapolis, Minn.

That includes Proctor.

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