March 20, 2014

Rachel At Risk

I went to see a play called Rachel At Risk Tuesday night. Here's the description of the play from their site:

Writer/Director Jesse Heffring worked with over fifty students, listening to their opinions, ideas and perspective on life, to create this eye opening play, "Rachel at Risk." It is a through-the-looking-glass journey into the world of youth, living with disability, in a world that does not understand them.

It was heavier than I expected and it's based on a true story. The play follows the lives of Rachel, who has an intellectual disability, and her Asperger's brother, Michael, who has cancer. They are stuck in the foster system and bounce around from home to home because of Rachel's anger management issues. She is very protective of her brother and the two of them stick together. The foster mother they get is not prepared to deal with a cancer-striken boy and wants to turn away this emergency placement. The reality of the shortage of foster homes available hits home and it demonstrates the incredible pressure social workers are under.

Together, the siblings end up at a special needs school and we get to learn about all the different classmates and their perspective on living with disability. They talk about whether they will earn high school diplomas, if they will work or collect welfare, and what's the point of even trying when society doesn't accept them. They even touched on the difficulties of living with parents who don't accept them as they are.

Rachel gets upset and runs away from the foster home. She ends up in a dangerous drug house and is exposed to a man who tries to use her naivity to turn her into a prostitute.

I don't want to give all the details of the story away, but this is just an example of the very heavy and mature subject matter these teens are dealing with.

Suffice to say, there wasn't a dry eye in the house after this performance. The kids did an amazing job! I'm also really impressed with the school.

As a bit of background, Summit School serves children/teens with intellectual, learning and behavioral disabilities from ages 4-21. They also have "satellite" schools, which means little mini-schools operate inside other mainstream schools. I went to a high school that had a Summit class within it, so these students were partially integrated. I was actually on an integration committee to help create a "buddy" system. I would say for the most part, that failed as a whole, but I know I at least enjoyed spending time with them. I went skiing with them and I remember one boy remarking, "you actually speak to me like I'm normal." Sad, but true.

If anything, seeing this play makes me want to send my son there for high school, because I see how much they really do believe in the kids reaching their full potential.

I'm not sure how long it's playing for, but if you're in Montreal, I recommend checking it out.

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