Working Toward a Common Goal
Working Toward a Common Goal
“It is great that we can share our experiences,” said Mariya, one of our Russian delegates visiting through the Open World Leadership Center. “We came to America and we see that we have the same goals.”
From February 3-11, 2012, ten Russian professionals who work in social services visited us through the Open World Leadership Center. The Open World Leadership Center is one of the major cultural exchange programs in the United States, designed to promote partnerships and continued communication. The program also allows the hosts and delegates to share experiences and knowledge as they work toward a common goal.
We enjoy hosting delegations through Open World. Every time, we learn something new and build new relationships that continue to reaffirm the fact that even though we may speak different languages and come from a different cultural background, we have the same goals.
Throughout the week, our delegates visited several schools and programs within Keystone and the community to see how services for individuals with disabilities are provided. Some of our delegates are working toward inclusive education in their regions, and they were especially interested in the school programs. They visited Cumberland Valley High School, a school that places great importance on inclusion. In the Life Skills Program at Cumberland Valley High School, the Russian delegates observed students working on their daily assignments. The curriculum is adapted for each student, based on their individualized schedules. The goal of the program is to prepare students for life in the community.
The delegates also visited the Play and Learn Program at the Capital Area Intermediate Unit. The CAIU works together with Keystone Children & Family Services to provide services for children in this program. Here, they observed children ages 4-5, some of which had autism. In these classrooms, teachers work with children to promote play and interaction, and children may also receive therapy. The delegates had many questions about how the teachers involved parents in their children’s education. Russia’s education laws guarantee the rights of every child to receive an education, and some of the delegates are working toward preparing schools and teachers to support children with disabilities, as well as involve parents in their children’s education.
Susquehanna Service Dogs gave a presentation to demonstrate how service dogs support children and adults with various disabilities. Service dogs can search for a child with autism who may have wandered off, touch the person to interrupt certain behaviors and apply pressure, among other things. The delegates were especially interested in service dogs being used in the classrooms.
The delegates also visited the several Capital Area Head Start preschool classrooms at Foose Elementary School and Ben Franklin School. Our delegates were particularly interested in inclusion in the preschool and the enrollment process for all children, regardless of disability. In CAHS classrooms, children with disabilities are included with their peers. The enrollment process is the same for all children, and then CAHS works to develop an individualized education plan for each child with a disability.
In addition, they visited the residential service in Keystone’s Intellectual Disability Services and learned about Social Role Valorization, the ideological foundation of all of our services and supports.
On February 8, our delegates toured the Pennsylvania State Capitol building and had the opportunity to meet with Robert DeSousa, the State Director for US Senator Pat Toomey’s office and PA Senator Mike Brubaker. State Director DeSousa and Senator Brubaker explained the organization of the federal, state and local government and its role in human services, including governmental aid and employment for people with disabilities. However, the information sharing was not one-sided. Senator Brubaker, who is especially interested in foreign matters, said that the delegates’ role in the United States is very important in building awareness about international affairs.
“When people from other cultures and countries interact, understanding grows. With understanding, comes friendship; with friendship, comes business relationships; with more business relationships comes a better economy; and with a better economy, comes world peace,” said Senator Brubaker.
Thank you to State Director DeSousa and Senator Brubaker for welcoming our delegates to the State Capitol!
One of the highlights of our week with our Russian delegates was the “Different Faces of Modern Russia” panel discussion by the delegates. In collaboration with the Open World Leadership Center and the World Affairs Council of Harrisburg, four of our delegates discussed politics, education, health care and family life in Russia. Through this presentation, we discovered that we share more similarities than differences. In politics, we all want our opinions to be reflected in the voting results. We all want our children to have a right to education with their peers, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, and we want them to be accepted. We all want our children to grow up in the community and not in an institution, and we want to be assured that health care will be there when we need it. The human experience is universal, regardless of language, culture and country.
As one of our delegates put it, now that we have had a week’s worth of conversations about inclusion and human services, we need to continue to build on these relationships so we can create a world where all people are welcomed.