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The student news site of De Smet Jesuit High School

The Mirror

The student news site of De Smet Jesuit High School

The Mirror

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Finding acceptance

New inclusion welcomes students with intellectual disabilities into Catholic Setting
Aidan Medley ’26
Peter Marvin ’27, Jaren Jackson ’24, and Aiden Hadican ’27 participate in the Inclusion Program with help from the One Classroom program supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal.

Freshman Aiden Hadican stands at center court during the Mission Week all-school assembly, all eyes directly on him. He waves his arms in the air to pump up the crowd as head varsity basketball coach Kent Williams hands him the basketball. Chants of “Aiden, Aiden” erupt from the stands as Aiden dribbles once then catapults the ball from half court. The whole school watches with excitement, the yells getting louder as the ball gets closer to the hoop.

Swish, Aiden makes the shot.

The gym erupts with pandemonium as the students storm the court to surround Aiden in celebration.

“That was the coolest thing of my life,” Aiden said.

Video of the shot went viral and earned Aiden endless amounts of high fives and national attention, including an appearance on ESPN’s NBA Today.

“Aiden thinks he’s famous, which is great,” Aiden’s dad Brian Hadican told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “Everybody keeps asking about the shot, the shot, the shot. But you know what the best part about the video is? The kids rushing the court. Their reaction tells you what the Inclusion Program means.”

The Inclusion program opened its doors in the summer of 2023 to Aiden and fellow freshman Peter Marvin. They are the first two students with Down Syndrome to enroll in a Catholic high school in St. Louis.

Principal Kevin Poelker first got the idea in 2012 when, as the basketball coach, he organized a summer camp for adults with Down syndrome.  Around that same time, One Classroom program was established in St. Louis, which further validated the feasibility and effectiveness of such initiatives within a Jesuit context.

“Witnessing the program come to life and positively impact our community has been truly rewarding,” Poelker said. “Personally it has deepened my appreciation for the transformative power of our Jesuit mission. For De Smet Jesuit, our Inclusion Program has fostered a stronger sense of community, enriched our formation initiatives, and reinforced our mission to cultivate ‘Men for and with Others.’”

Peter and Aiden are active in four classes with their peer mentors:  Fine Arts, Theology, P.E./Health, and Social Studies. They also participate in a self-contained curriculum led by Director of Inclusion Education Sarah Patton, in Math, English, Science, and Study Skills/Life Skills.

“As with any student, some days we are focused and get lessons accomplished. Other days, we can feel stressed or tired which can get in the way of learning,” Patton said. “As a special education teacher it is important to be flexible and meet students where they are.”

The Program allows other students to be involved as peer mentors. They are juniors and seniors who work side by side with Peter and Aiden, helping them in their classes, to take notes, tests, and quizzes.

“They have taught me to be a more patient person,” senior peer mentor Jaren Jackson said. “They’ve taught me to be more kind towards others, and to be more loving and caring.”

Junior and seniors get elective credit and service hours for being peer mentors in the Inclusion Program. Juniors stay at the school if the program overlaps with their junior projects each Monday afternoon. Seniors receive 25 service hours for their help.

“I think it’s good for teenagers to look outside themselves, and to have opportunities to do that,” Patton said. “I think the biggest impact for De Smet Jesuit has been that our peer mentors learned to see others that may have disabilities just like themselves.”

The presence of Peter and Aiden has shaped a holistic development in the students of the school.

“It’s been really wonderful to have students with Down Syndrome in our school community,” Patton said. “The perspective they give their fellow De Smet brothers about learning in life, not to take themselves too seriously.”

Two more students will join Aiden and Peter in the fall, with the goal of having as many as 12 students active in the program. Space for life skills classrooms with a kitchenette, washer, and dryer is a possibility. In the students’ junior and senior years, they will have opportunities to learn job skills, whether it is on campus in the Snack Shack, or various local businesses such as Dierbergs, and Kohls.

The National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion, a nonprofit that supports inclusive education, finds that about 2% of Catholic schools include students with intellectual disabilities. Poelker encourages other Jesuit institutions to explore and implement the same program.

“By integrating Jesuit values into academic curriculum and extracurricular activities, institutions can nurture students who are not only academically proficient but also socially conscious and ethically grounded,” Poelker said. “Embracing this approach not only aligns with our shared Jesuit mission but also equips students with the skills and values needed to become compassionate leaders and agents of positive change in the world.”

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Hank Hardage
Hank Hardage, Opinions Editor

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