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Inclusion: We Can Do That (Too)!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020 by Michael Faggella-Luby, Ph.D. Texas Christian University-Professor of Special Education ACE 5 (JAX) & PIE Consultant/Adjunct Facult

We Can Do That, Too!

The Program for Inclusive Education (PIE) collaborates with schools and dioceses across the country. The PIE team is humbled and graced in meeting many awe-inspiring educators as we see the fruits of their work while they cultivate our mission of inclusion in Catholic schools. This mission takes a village! 

Part of PIE’s village includes Dr. Michael Faggella-Luby, a professor of special education at Texas Christian University. In addition to his day job, Michael serves as a consultant and adjunct faculty in the Program for Inclusive Education. He is no stranger to the ACE family, given he is a graduate of ACE 5 after teaching English language arts and chemistry at Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville, Florida. 

Michael wrote a short story about his early days of ACE, about an adventure with his ACE community members that fits our journey–inclusion in Catholic schools. He shares his story below, along with an additional reflection. 

In times when our journey seems bumpy and we wonder about the success of our mission, please remember that it all begins with...We can do that!  

~ Christie Bonfiglio, Ph.D., Program for Inclusive Education - Director

Michael Faggella-LubyDr. Michael Faggella-Luby’s Story

Under the orange neon lights of the AutoZone sign, we stared across the open hood of the ‘83 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera. The tow truck drove away into the warm summer night leaving our broken down car behind. In disbelief, Dave’s final words to the driver echoed in my ears: “We can do that.” We can do that! Was Dave crazy?

The driver had just explained to us that Eljse’s car needed a new alternator and that we could buy one inside the store. He had apologized that he couldn’t stay to help us, but since Dave had a few tools, he thought we would be fine changing the alternator ourselves. Ourselves! Perhaps the driver was unaware of several key points: (1) the “tools” to which he referred were a Christmas gift from Dave’s mother and had never actually been out of the box, (2) I had not processed anything in his uninterrupted seven-minute, jargon-filled explanation of how to complete the procedure after he used the phrase, “…don’t forget or it might blow up,” and (3) the automotive expertise among the three of us centered on reminding each other periodically to get an oil change at JiffyLube every 3,000 or so miles. How were we going to do this?

This trip had started with promise and hope. Eljse, Dave and I had formed a caravan of three cars, driving the thousand miles from our house in Jacksonville to South Bend. Our school year in the Diocese of St. Augustine had ended on Friday, so we had two days to get to Notre Dame before classes began the following Monday for our second ACE summer. 

We were a motley crew at best. Dave drove a 1993 Civic he had purchased from a former ACEr and was using a hockey stick propped under his arm to regulate his speed as a homemade cruise control. He never could get it quite right, and so while Eljse and I stayed together, his car was constantly five miles ahead or five miles behind.

Eljse’s car was a gift to the ACE house arranged by our superintendent, Pat Tierney, and had made it possible for many of us to get to work. The Oldsmobile had seen a lot of living, as evidenced by the scrapes, dents, and rust spots on its faded baby-blue exterior. I recall that Eljse had already had to have the car jumped several times. In fact, part of the purpose of our caravan was to make sure that we nursed the car to Notre Dame in one piece.

In the days before everyone had cell phones, I feared we would never be able to get there as a group. So we left palm trees behind, crossed through the Appalachian Mountains and entered the unending sky and plains of the Midwest. The first day of travel passed without incident. The next day, our luck ran out.

As we prepared to leave on the second morning, we discovered that Eljse’s car would not start. Demonstrating the full extent of our knowledge of cars, we hooked her car up to mine for a “jump,” by following the step-by-step directions attached to the cables by a notecard. Even with the directions, we used the phrase, “I don’t know, what do you think?” a little too often. The need to jump the car surfaced twice over the next 200 miles until we pulled into a Travelers gas station in Seymour, Indiana, where the car seemed to gasp its final breath. A quick call and 3-hour wait for a AAA tow truck and we were standing in the AutoZone parking lot alone. Our only chance to make it to ND in time for classes on Monday was to change the alternator ourselves because the nearest garage could not promise us it could have the car fixed earlier than Wednesday morning. How were we going to do this?

The answer was pretty simple: We were going to do it together. In what became known in our house as the incident of “Mike & the Mechanics,” we carefully reconstructed what the driver had told us (shared memory is wonderful!) and when the new alternator didn’t exactly line up with the existing supports, we used a little creative problem-solving to get the car back on the road for the final push to ND.

The Dome on a Summer eveningI will argue with anyone that no three Domers have ever been so happy to see campus when we pulled up to the dorms. Eljse hugged Dave and me and we shared a quiet moment. We had made it together, the same way we had made it through our first year (and the same way we would make it through the next).

It is difficult to put into words what happened on that trip, but the trust that we had developed as community members facing the challenges of the classroom had allowed us to reach beyond our individual limitations. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. In our case, I think that necessity brought out the best in each of us, allowing us to collectively solve our problem. There were several times that we each wanted to give up, or admit that it could not be done and call it quits. But because we had the safety of each other, we were willing to take the risks, to share what we had learned, and to draw upon the strengths of others in our time of crisis.

Margaret Mead tells us to never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. While we were not changing the world (it was just an alternator), I like to think that we were practicing and developing the strategies and strengths that will help each of us to change the world.

In our collaboration, we embodied the spirit of ACE: a hope in the possibility that if we take the very best of each of us and put these gifts to work in collaboration with others, we can improve the lives of all children, their families, and their schools through Catholic education. ACE draws upon our individual desires to better our world and helps to shape each of us by providing countless opportunities to grow through our teaching, community, and faith. 

Change the world? We can do that

"Today, I am a professor of special education dedicated to training educators to be equally welcoming to students with disabilities by including them as whole children of God-honoring their best and least." - Dr. Michael Faggella-Luby

Postscript

I find as I reread these words that they still fill my heart with love and awe for my ACE classmates. These were halcyon days (probably not as idyllic as I remember), but nonetheless, they fill my cup to overflowing. My housemates always made me feel welcome. They made it clear that as a pillar of our community, there was always a place for me at the table–on my best days, and my least days. Today, I am a professor of special education dedicated to training educators to be equally welcoming to students with disabilities by including them as whole children of God-honoring their best and least.

Some will tell you that God never gives us more burden than we can bear. I like to think that each struggle makes us stronger for the next. In the old days, we changed alternators under street lights far from home. Today, we work to ensure that individuals with disabilities always have a home in Catholic schools (especially during this time of crisis when they need our expertise more than ever). The mission may have changed, but doing hard things together is the most worthwhile work I am engaged in.

Ensure that all are welcome in our Catholic schools? We can do that (too)!


Learn more about PIE's mission to welcome, serve, and celebrate all students in our schools at ace.nd.edu/inclusion