Tonight I will sit in a packed auditorium to attend the ‘Everyone is Beautiful’ fashion show at my son, Mike’s school.  The show is a collaborative event hosted by the Cosmetology students, for the ESE students.  While the teachers and administrators view this event as just another school function, it is so much more for the families and students.  For some parents, the event seems almost unbelievable – most schools just don’t extend themselves beyond the basic standards of ‘necessary’ inclusion.  Our school, Plant City High School, is not only including our students – they’re celebrating them.  There is a school-wide standard that our kids are to be included, educated, protected and WANTED.

As part of just the regular routine, every Wednesday, Mrs. Ritenbaugh’s Cosmetology students host a spa day for the ESE students.  The ESE students get their hair, nails, and makeup done by other high school students.   For parents, especially those who have children in wheelchairs, the service lessens their workload.  It’s one less thing we have to do – the task of taking your child for a haircut has been removed.  For the ESE students it’s an opportunity for them to feel special and visit with their typical friends.  For the Cosmetology students, it’s a lesson in humanity.  They’re receiving skills that will prepare them for a disabled client and, perhaps for some, a disabled child of their own someday. Friendships are made and the students have fun!

_Ashley McElroy gets her hair done by ____________

(Ashley getting her hair done.)

 Plant City, Florida is known for their strawberries and strawberry season is celebrated.  There is a festival, parade, beauty pageant, and strawberry shortcakes on every corner.

In 2006, Summer, a PCHS student was crowned Florida’s Strawberry Queen during the festival.  Summer was a cosmetology student and participated in the weekly “Spa Day” for the ESE students.  The week that Summer was crowned, she wore her crown and sash during the Spa Day.  Summer, unfazed about being the queen, jumped in to do Ashley, an ESE’s student’s hair.  Ashley, on the other hand, was MESMERIZED!  Mrs. Ritenbaugh quietly observed the girls from across the room.  Ashley, unable to take her eyes off of Summer, said to her, “you are beautiful.”  Summer responded by telling Ashley that she was even MORE beautiful.  Then Ashley said, “I am beautiful and I am going to be in a pageant and be a queen someday.”  Mrs. Rienbaugh and Summer, in unison said, “YES, YOU ARE AND YES, YOU WILL.”  The Everyone is Beautiful Fashion Show was held that year and every year since!

Ashley McElroy with her buddies Sarah Kelley and Rhodia Ale

 (PCHS’s beautiful Queen Ashley)

As a parent, like most, I have seen and experienced teachers and administrators who should not be working in the field of education.  A few have even left me questioning their morality.  While I LOVE sharing stories about PCHS with you, it also brings me sadness.  This story should NOT be the exception – PCHS should be the NORM!  How is it that this school can meet MY NEEDS – not just my son’s?!  I shouldn’t be considered a ‘lucky parent’ because I don’t spend my day worrying after I drop Mike off at school.  My standards for Mike are HIGH and they’ve exceeded them!  Trust me, for a school located just up the street, I WAS not only the squeaky wheel – I WAS THE BITCH! … and I’m STILL not over Mike’s experience there.

I suppose the simple answer is that PCHS wants my son there.  It’s a standard of acceptance that comes from the top.

In the State of Florida, schools are ranked on a grading system that includes ESE students.  Schools with large ESE populations typically rank below their counterparts because of their contribution.   When our Principal, a PCHS graduate herself, was asked if she was concerned about the large ESE population negatively impacting the school’s ranking, she replied that she would simply have to work harder to bring the general education students higher.   PCHS is an older, rural school, with a diverse population; it is also an A-rated school.  BRAVO RAIDERS!!!


BTW – I offered to solicit supplies for the program in this posting.  Mr. Ritenbaugh replied that nothing is needed – the funds are reaching the students!!

SIDE NOTE: Mr. Ritenbaugh joined our ESE team this year and is one of Mike’s teachers. We are extremely fortunate to have him on our team!