Garrett Shows, a sophomore at ConVal high school, is a student with differing abilities. Born three months premature, he’s been diagnosed with developmental disabilities. Still, at 17, he’s much like other kids his age. He’s on the track team, he has an afterschool job, and he excels in drama class. The secret to his success, by all accounts, is fierce determination, a supportive family and a school devoted to inclusion.
Shows is the subject of a new documentary by Dan Habib, whose award-winning films “Who Cares About Kelsey” and “Including Samuel,” among others, have shone a light on youth with disabilities, and their educational and social opportunities. His films have been shown on public television and two have been nominated for Emmy awards. Habib was the photography editor of the Concord Monitor before joining University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability in 2008.
This latest work focusing on best practices for helping students with disabilities transition to college and career is a 30-minute companion to a longer piece whose working title is “Intelligent Lives.”
“It’s not just a theoretical issue for me, it’s very personal. I live it in my own family,” Habib said, referring to his son, Samuel, who inspired Habib’s first film on the subject “Including Samuel.” “My son is in the same grade as Garrett, so there are a lot of parallels.”
A preview of “Intelligent Lives” – which looks at the way society perceives intelligence and the history of intelligence testing, as well as three people with disabilities who are succeeding in their careers – will screen Thursday at Keene’s Antioch University New England, in a program scheduled for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Also at the event, Habib will discuss his work, including the untitled piece featuring Shows and other students from Arkansas and the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Why Conval?
Habib, a Concord resident, said he wanted to include a New Hampshire school in the film about best practices for transitions, and his research showed ConVal is on the right track.
“ConVal was an example for me of a school in New Hampshire doing a lot of things right,” Habib said, noting Garrett is included in mainstream classes at the school, even though he also receives indivdualized instruction, too. “They have an enthusiastic approach to inclusion in the classroom and athletics.”
Garrett is on the regular track team, but he also participates in unified sports at the school, which pairs youths of differing abilities on the same team.
Habib said he’s a huge advocate for inclusion to the greatest degree possible for his son, but it’s something each student and family has to decide for themselves.
Richard Matte, director of student services for the district, said inclusive education to the greatest possible extent is a guiding principle for ConVal and one of its foundational beliefs.
ConVal also helps students like Garrett work toward a diploma, rather than just a certificate of attendance, which Habib said is critical. ConVal students also have the opportunity to do internships and volunteering in the community. “You learn a lot about the workplace,” he said, with such extended learning opportunities.
Habib added, “[ConVal] also seems to work well with community partners” such as Monadnock Developmental Services and other such agencies. “It’s very important that schools don’t work in isolation,” he said.
Garrett also serves on the Student-Princial Advisory Committee, where there are opportunities for him to practice leadership skills.
“ConVal struck me as a very strong school for supporting students in transition ...” Habib said, noting the school is among a handful in the state that have a full-time transitional coordinator. Entering the workforce
Garrett’s mother, Arlene Shows, of Peterborough, said ConVal has been very supportive and inclusive of her son, and recently took some extra steps on his behalf to help him with his long-term goal of independence.
Garrett has been telling Arlene he wants to work for a year now, she said, so when he saw that the Peterborough Shaws was hiring he jumped at the chance. “I wasn’t going to stop him,” she said.
But Shaws wanted him to have a job coach with him to start, so Arlene, ConVal and Monadnock Developmental Services got together to see what could be done. They contacted Vocational Rehabilitation in Keene, which helps people with disabilities become gainfully employed, and the agency hired Easter Seals to provide job coaching for Garrett.
Garrett is responsible for collecting and returning shopping carts from the parking lot to inside the store. “I love it. It’s fun,” he said Thursday.
Arlene said when Garret got his first paycheck “he felt like a million dollars.”A teacher’s perspective
Garrett’s drama teacher Elizabeth Moore, who also teaches English, said including students of differing abilities in her classes helps all of them do better. Before ConVal, she worked at a school that didn’t include students with disablities in mainstream classes, and found she prefers inclusion.
“They were very disconnected from other students,” Moore recalled, referring to students with disabilities in the school that didn’t practice inclusion. “The things I would be doing to include the student are going to be helpful for the student who doesn’t have a disability.”
Moore started at ConVal six years ago, the same year Principal Brian Pickering started, and inclusion is something Pickering has always fostered, she said. “Students just go out of their way to help each other,” she said.
For English class, students with challenges usually have a paraprofessional with them to help and/or they may be in a class that matches their academic ability, Moore said. But theater is a place where students of all abilities come together.
“That’s one of the reasons I love teaching theater, because the material is accessible to a much broader spectrum,” Moore said. “You get to apply what you’re doing much more immediately.”
Moore said drama class is a place where students come out their shells much more readily. “They’re all working together,” she said of the students. “In all of our departments, we’re trying to make that happen — in our math and in our science classes, we’re trying to make it much more accessible.”
One approach ConVal is using to do that is to employ the techniques of drama across the disciplines. In say, a social studies class, for example, students might explore the interaction of two different societies by acting them out. “There are so many ways to use drama,” she said. “We do as much as we can, and we can always do better. But the goal is to try new things thoughtfully, and see how it works for us and them.”