Meet Chris Mieske, a 2020 Difference Maker of the Year
Grade 6 teacher Chris Mieske saw an opportunity to teach his class at Trafalgar Middle School in Nelson, B.C. about how prioritizing inclusion and accessibility could expand their horizons.
One of Chris’ students, Todd, was born with bilateral perisylvian polymicrogyria, a rare neurological condition that affects his mobility and creates spasticity in his limbs. Todd uses a wheelchair to travel around his school and requires a full-time educational assistant for support. “I’m not sure Todd had ever been in a regular classroom full-time,” says Chris, “But it was important to me, and to his classmates, that he be part of the class just like anyone else.”
With a guiding principle for the class of “leave no one behind,” Chris challenged his students to find a way to help Todd participate in their winter survival skills activity, which involved a 4 km trek in the snow to an A-frame cabin. The students rose to the challenge, consulting medical and building experts to guide the construction of a special sled, and asking Todd questions about his condition in an effort to devise the perfect strategy for getting him out in the woods with the rest of the class. During this ideation process, no question was off limits, so the students developed an intimate understanding of Todd’s needs.
“It was amazing to see the compassion the students all developed as a result of the project,” says Chris.
“If Todd’s condition caused him to scream or if he needed attention for any other reason, instead of being put off or freaked out, a student would just tell Todd’s EA or myself what he needed some help with.”
The class made it out to the A-frame without incident, in a sled that students created for Todd with the help of local businesses in Nelson. When Chris discovered he’d been nominated as a Difference Maker of the Year, he was shocked. “I work with so many incredible educators,” he says “I just saw an opportunity to teach my kids that we all have differences, whether they’re visible or not, and we’re all worthy, contributing members to society.”
You can learn more about Operation Leave No One Behind here.