CHARLESTON — For parents like Jennie and Reid Banks, the Options Program at Bishop England High School has been a God-send.
Their daughter Hope just completed her freshman year at the school, and it was an unqualified success. As a child with special needs, Hope was assimilated into every aspect of school life through Bishop England’s inclusion program.
In addition to making friends and being in the school play, Hope played powder-puff football, entered the art show, made the honor roll and earned 30-plus service hours for her volunteer work. Banks said she could not praise the program or its director, Martine Boudreaux, enough.
As an expression of her gratitude, Banks nominated Boudreaux for the Edward M. Shaughnessy III Serving All God’s Children Award. And she wasn’t the only one. Boudreaux was also nominated by four other people, including David Held, school principal; Sister Julia Hutchison, SND, diocesan superintendent of schools; Cindi May, an associate professor of psychology at the College of Charleston and leading proponent for inclusive education; and Kate Cusick, another parent.
Boudreaux said when she found out she had won the award, she was overwhelmed and humbled. She added that it should not be for her, but for the entire school because she could not have done it without the support of faculty, students and parents.
“It’s the team that makes this happen,” she said.
She will travel to Louisville, Ky., to receive the award July 1 along with Angela Joos, an Options teacher; Held and May. Boudreaux said her mom, Julie Nesbit, will also meet her there.
“This honor is the absolute Heisman Trophy for inclusive education,” Held wrote in an e-mail. “We are so proud that Martine’s natural gifts, extraordinary commitment to inclusion, ability to encourage teachers, and her love of students is being recognized on such a large scale.”
The program has been such a success that other schools have also taken notice, and officials from at least eight states have either visited or plan to visit, Boudreaux said in a phone interview with The Miscellany.
Two of those schools have inclusion programs that Bishop England helped set up.
She said most of the comments she receives revolve around how accepting the student body is of the special needs teenagers. They are greeted by name, given high-fives in the hallway, and included in the social scene of high school life, Boudreaux said.
“They’re part of all that regular teenage stuff,” she said.
May attributes this all-important inclusion to the foresight of Boudreaux.
“Martine had the experience and wisdom to recognize that full inclusion would be successful only if students with special needs were embraced not only by the faculty but also, and perhaps more importantly, by their peers,” May wrote in her nomination letter.
To make sure social inclusion was a success, Boudreaux created the Options Scholars and Peer Buddies programs.
The scholars are advanced placement students who work one-on-one with those in Options to help them reach their academic benchmarks, Boudreaux said. They read together for comprehension, study chemistry, work on math and more.
She said there is no limit to what they can accomplish.
As an example, May tells the story of one young man who spent his elementary years doing nothing more than counting because that is all his teachers expected of him. Within six months of joining the Options program, he had learned to add, subtract, multiply, divide and perform basic algebra.
They blossom socially too. Each month, peer buddies meet for a pizza party to plan social outings for the next month. They go shopping, bowling, to school dances, basketball tournaments, football games and movies.
Sam Hazeltine, one of the Options students, was voted class king two years in a row.
“For the student body to vote him king speaks volumes about the acceptance of the students,” Boudreaux said. “I have seen every single one of them come out of their shell and just be so confident that they are part of the student body.”
Banks said her daughter has always been confident and independent, but she was glad Hope had a peer group to show her around and eat lunch with her.
“This really helps other kids understand their disabilities and their abilities,” Banks said. “Our teenagers have the same desires and dreams and fears as them. They’re more like them than they are different.”
Bishop England introduced inclusive education two years ago. They have three special needs students who are rising juniors, one rising sophomore, and two incoming freshman.
As the program grows, Boudreaux said she hopes to expand the parameters so more children can attend.
She also challenges all Catholic elementary schools to implement a similar plan.
“It’s important for them to start at the beginning,” she said.
A National Board Certified Teacher in special education, she received her undergraduate degree from Furman University and her master’s from the College of Charleston. Boudreaux taught in public schools in Summerville for 11 years before being hired to run the Options program at Bishop England.
For more information, about the Options program, visit http://boudreauxm.beteachers.com.