Disability Awareness at RHS

Becoming aware of how Ridgewood High School serves every member of our student body is an important and interesting way to engage with our community. The Ridgewood Intensive Services program, or RISe, is a comprehensive Applied Behavior Analysis program at RHS, where the staff members play a large role in serving and including our disabled peers. As Mrs. Gorman, a special-education teacher for the RISe program, explains: “The program provides highly-structured, systematic and individualized programming for students. In the RISe classroom, students’ work is individualized based on their individual needs and personal goals and objectives. Our focus is on gaining independence and important social, functional and work related skills that our students need to have to be successful in school, in a future career and living in the real world.”

According to one student in the RISe program, “The teachers help me get my work done, communicate with me through Gmail and post assignments so I know what is going on in each of my classes.” They enjoy the program, explaining that “I like the work skills class because I like working on data entry, it is a good exercise for typing and a possible career for the future. In Math class I have had positive experiences working on reading menus, calculating totals, and finding change, handling money.  I also enjoy going into the community to practice talking to people, ordering food, paying and doing things for myself.”

Mrs. Gorman says the program is continuing to expand. “The administration has been extremely supportive and involved in making sure the program is receiving adequate attention as well as funding. We are currently working on renovating and improving the classroom with brand new equipment, appliances, furniture and supplies that are necessary for teaching our students important self help and work related skills.  I am very excited to see the program continue to grow and improve.”

Mr Rinaldi is a health and PE teacher for the RISe program and is also part of running the Unified Sports Club and Unified Leadership Team at RHS. He tells us that “The Unified Leadership Team is a group of students associated with the Unified Sports Club. What we wanted to do was create more opportunities for students in the RISe group to be with their general-ed peers. We began with an inclusive badminton class, from there, the administrators circled back to us after seeing the lesson and asked if we wanted to create the Unified Sports Club. I want to give all the compliments to the people who are in the administration. We’ve always had their full support with any program we’ve wanted to try or implement.”

Mitch, a student who is part of the Unified Leadership Team, talks about his experience when he first moved to Ridgewood. “I was super nervous about coming to a new school because it was a big change. People being nice and helping me out with my work helped me get comfortable.” As a member of the Unified Sports Club, Mitch says that “I really like coming to and playing all the games at Unified Sports. I really like meeting and talking to new people. I like to see how they are and how they react to each other.”

He goes on to say that his experience in the program has been largely positive. “My teachers and all my friends that I work with have been very helpful.  Personal Finance is my favorite class.  Mr. Nyhuis has taught me a lot about personal finance and how to work well.”

Mr. Rinaldi expands on this. “A student’s goals and objectives of what they need to achieve in high school are individualized to them. It’s a collaborative effort: regardless of whether their student has a disability or not, we are challenged to meet the needs of each individual learner. We all have individual needs and learn in different ways, so when we create our lessons, there really shouldn’t be this one size fits all approach.” 

Mr. Rinaldi is very passionate about inclusion in all aspects. “Inclusion to me isn’t about bringing people with and without disabilities together, inclusion to me is what people find joy in. People at a concert are of all different backgrounds, but what brings them together is their joy of that artist. That’s inclusion.” Part of that, he explains, is about removing labels. “We don’t use labels on who is special-ed and who isn’t. We bring everyone together, just come as you are. If you happen to have a disability, it’s not even brought up. That could be the same with all these other clubs and organizations in the school. They don’t have to say ‘we include people with disabilities,’ they can just include people.” 

And looking ahead, “A lot of people are interested and supportive, but I’m looking forward to being able to have more visibility so more students and staff can get involved in the future. In a few years, Unified PE will be an elective. You can take the class with the RISe classroom and be able to learn how things are modified and adjusted, then that helps you be advocates for the future. We’re looking to plant these little seeds so then you guys can be the next generation of creative inclusive opportunities.”

Ultimately, says Mrs. Gorman,“There will always be more work to do [with disability awareness and education].  Awareness is great but it is not enough. I believe that we should always continue to educate ourselves on how to make individuals with disabilities feel accepted and included and then practice it. Kindness can go a long way.” 

As a student, I hope to see Mrs. Gorman and Mr. Rinaldi’s  hopes satisfied in the coming years and I encourage other students to adapt an inclusive mindset.

Michelle Hashem
Staff Writer

Graphic: Isabella Harelick

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