How to enable a little girl with cerebral palsy to participate in her class’s two-day camping trip? Chicago special ed teacher Helma Wardenaar was determined to find a way and boy, did she ever.
She’d been working with Maggie since kindergarten, reports ABC 13 News. Maggie uses a walker or a wheelchair, neither of which was a realistic option for hiking. “We thought it was super important for her to be there and be able to do everything the other students were doing,” said Helma, director of student services at the Academy for Global Citizenship.
Helma set her mind to figuring out a solution. She considered borrowing a friend’s pony for Maggie, but was told they weren’t allowed in the forest. She checked out backpack and carrier options at REI, but found no good options. A wheelbarrow? Nope, not sturdy enough.
Then she got a call back from the REI staffer, who’d found a new backpack-like carrier called the Freeloader, which holds children between 25 and 80 pounds. Lacking a school budget for such things, Helma paid for one out of her own pocket. And then, she toted Maggie around on the trip as the class did the sort of stuff kids do on hikes: identify birds, check out animal tracks and look for beaver dams.
Carrying around a 62-pound child on trails is no mean feat, but Maggie helped. “When she noticed I was huffing and puffing, she even gave me a little massage on my neck,” said Helma. “Then she started singing as a distraction.”
We’ve all met teachers who have gone above and beyond, but this one’s willingness, determination and selflessness stand out. Too often, our children with disabilities aren’t able to participate in events and activities because people can’t envision a way to include them—or aren’t willing to. Inclusion is half mindset, half figuring out the logistics. Here’s to teachers who make things happen for our children. Helma Wardenaar, the world needs more people like you.