HARTLAND — While dozens of middle school students in the area have graduated from the eighth grade this spring, Kelly Lyons was the first student with Down syndrome to graduate from North Shore Middle School.
Lyons was fully included in every class and completed the normal curriculum for middle school students. “We were very impressed with Kelly’s ability to advocate for herself and her ability to be as independent as possible,” said Michele Schmidt, principal at North Shore.
The Hartland-Lakeside School District adopted a fully inclusive policy a little over seven years ago. A large part of that decision was based on Kelly Lyons and her mother’s desire to have her child placed in the normal classroom environment. When Lyons was two years old, her mother, Robbin, began looking within the school system and found that no school had adopted inclusive policies.
Special needs children were often kept in a separate classroom for most of the school day. Robbin Lyons took matters into her own hands and began asking schools to full include Kelly Lyons. “I was truly expecting this to be a battle,” said Robbin Lyons. “I really wanted her to be fully included.” One teacher specifically approached her and asked to be Kelly Lyons’ teacher.
She even traveled to New York over the summer to receive special training. Teachers from the grade Kelly Lyons would be entering the following year followed suit. They all made sure to seek out extra training so they would be prepared when she arrived. Soon, the school district made the switch over to being all inclusive. “Hartland-Lakeside has had such great success because they’ve actually trained their teachers, they didn’t just say ‘we’re gonna be all inclusive,’” said Robbin Lyons.
For the most part, students and staff were welcoming to Kelly Lyons and the all inclusive polices being introduced into the school district. Robbin Lyons says, however, that a few families were opposed to the change and even left the district. “I just choose to look at it as a lack of education,” said Robbin Lyons. “They don’t get separated out in the real world.
We have to teach our children to live in real world situations.” Kelly Lyons was able to walk in the North Shore commencement ceremony with the rest of her classmates. She gave a speech where she recalled how special needs kids used to be separated from everyone else. “The benefits for the students who aren’t disabled are even greater,” said Schmidt. “Over the years, we’ve seen kids without disabilities really build friendships and become advocates.” On to Lake Country Lutheran The next step for Kelly Lyons is high school.
Her parents made the decision to take her out of public schools, so that she can be exposed to age-appropriate and challenging content. Robbin Lyons says that her daughter is mostly self-sufficient and is just like any other teenage girl. She loves shopping, makeup and other girly things. It was difficult finding the right fit in a high school for her.
It wasn’t until she approached staff at Lake County Lutheran High School that the Lyons found the right fit. While they did not hear back right away, the school eventually decided to accept Kelly Lyons as their first Down syndrome student. Robbin Lyons says that the principal at Lake County Lutheran expects Kelly Lyons to teach the staff far more than they will teach her.