Building a special education program at a school like DSHA meant we were starting from scratch. The journey began when we were asked to accompany research trips to Catholic schools across the nation along with DSHA faculty and other students. We visited schools with similar types of programs that we hoped to construct. Before these trips, it was difficult to fully grasp what an inclusion program would look like at our school, and it became easy to get lost in all of the different professional terms and jargon that were thrown around. However, with programs as unique as these, it quickly became apparent that the best way to truly understand was through firsthand experience — and we were lucky enough to be able to take part in that.
Our research trips to Catholic high schools with inclusion programs in Tennessee, Maryland, and Virginia became invaluable resources to help build the Marian Scholars Program. We were able to speak to members of the community — students, teachers, parents, and administration — who helped us learn that programs like these did not just benefit the students with disabilities in the program, but rather benefit all members of the school community.
Our school hosts were so excited to hear we might be starting a program of our own and loved to tell us about the amazing ways their inclusion programs had touched their own lives. After sharing our questions and absorbing all of the perspectives of those we encountered, whether through shadowing classes or spur of the moment interactions, we began to see how we could adapt the program to our own school environment and how the implementation would positively impact the school community in countless ways. The loving and widespread nature of the inclusive environments at the schools we visited painted a vivid picture of what we hoped to see come to fruition at DSHA with the implementation of the Marian Scholars Program in the fall.
There was a fair share of uncertainty that existed at the start of the process in regards to what a special education program would look like in a Catholic high school like ours. But there was an undeniable passion burning bright within us to help people within the DSHA community understand the benefits and logistics of the Marian Scholars Program. Even with our youth being outwardly apparent to those with whom we interacted, our age did not and could not deter the immeasurable excitement our faces and voices exuded whenever we were asked to share our school visit experiences. Our communication skills were in constant use as we debriefed our trips with our travel groups of students and faculty, and prepared and gave presentations to the DSHA Board of Directors, the faculty and staff, the DSHA Parent Association, and other groups within the school. During this communication phase, there were times we were the only non-adults in the room, but we made sure to openly provide input and insight fully knowing the incalculable value of our student perspectives which proved essential to what the formation of the Marian Scholars Program ultimately is today.
For the Marian Scholars themselves, this program provides young women with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the greater Milwaukee area the opportunity to have an unparalleled Dasher experience with a whole-person education, exceptional faith formation, and entrance into a sisterhood that will last a lifetime.
However, the benefits of this program are not limited to the Marian Scholars, but instead extend throughout the DSHA community and beyond. This program strengthens our community by encouraging us to be more understanding, and more importantly, more appreciative of the differences we all possess that play an integral role in contributing to our unique individualism and holistic identity as a school. On a broader scale, the program provides witness to the greater message of our Catholic faith, putting precepts into action by ensuring that all are shown the unconditional love and support that God abundantly showers upon everyone — no matter our differences or ability levels. Having the Marian Scholars Program at DSHA, in conjunction with all of our school community members from a variety of differing backgrounds, faiths, socio-economic statuses, and other distinctions, truly helps to serve as a microcosm of the immense diversity that Dashers will encounter in the real world.
We are both so incredibly grateful to have been able to contribute to this amazing program. We are confident the Marian Scholars Program will impact an abundance of people for the better for years to come. Although our experiences with people with disabilities have been by no means uniform, our desire for all young women to be able to be formed by an all-girls, Catholic education, to be afforded the life-changing opportunities, and to know their worth and potential, is shared. In the future, we hope to look back on our work in retrospect and see the DSHA community, the greater Milwaukee area, and the world as a whole become a more inclusive place as a direct result of the Marian Scholars Program.
THE MARIAN SCHOLARS PROGRAM:
A student-centered, inclusive education program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
- Inspired by Blessed Mary of the Apostles, founder of the Sisters of the Divine Savior, whose mission is to make known the goodness and kindness of Jesus Christ in the spirit of inclusivity.
- Supports the belief that all students deserve opportunities to maximize their academic, social, and spiritual potential.
- Requires participation in all aspects of the DSHA community — clubs, Mass, retreats, athletics, fine arts, and more — from its Scholars.
- Relies on a peer mentoring component; these mentors help Scholars engage in class, implement curriculum modifications, and lend support as needed.
- Designs each Scholar’s schedule with input from parents/guardians and teachers; each schedule includes a mixture of general academic and elective classes with special education classes in reading, writing, and math.