By Judy Chiao, teacher, Burnaby
For exactly two years, six months, and ten days, the students and staff at Burnaby North Secondary’s Access program worked tirelessly to create a picture book called 1, 2, 3, Count with Me: A Bug Can Count if You Believe. The book was created and illustrated by students with diverse needs and was published in November 2020. This picture book demonstrates that creativity and technology allow diverse learners to participate in meaningful ways when we all work together toward a common goal.
Our book was inspired by Leo, our student who is an expert in all things related to bugs. During a lesson on rhymes, Leo started sharing facts on the Hercules beetle. Very quickly, everyone joined in by imagining the escapades of adventurous bugs who live in a colourful, make-believe world. We discussed whether bugs can have personalities and the types of mischief that a bug could find itself in with its friends. Soon, we had a fantastical story filled with adventure, discovery, and humour.
Once we had a story in place, we started to work on creating illustrations. Each page was compiled using individual images created, drawn, and coloured by different students. Through editing, we superimposed students’ illustrations to create engaging and brilliant finished pages that include bugs, vehicles, skylines, and different objects.
Throughout this project, we have been asked by colleagues and families why we wanted to publish a book. Our response has been quite simple: to empower our students and their parents through bragging rights. Our students face many challenges physically and socially, and opportunities for success are not easily available.
When our student Aaron picked up his copy of the book, he held it close and read it out loud to his mother Sue as they drove home. Aaron pointed to his name inside the book and beamed. Afterward, in an email Sue wrote, “I teared up watching his obvious pride.”
When Leo’s father, Taka, came to pick up his copies of the book, he said, “Inside this book is Leo’s name. My wife and I want to show our family and relatives in Japan.” As Taka shared this with us, his eyes welled.
As parents, we have been taught that bragging about our children’s success is something society frowns upon. However, parents of typical children frequently have the privilege to make the intentional decision to not brag about their child, as they have many more opportunities for success. The families of children with diverse needs are rarely, if ever, given the opportunity to bask in their child’s success. Over the years, we have had many parents share with us their frustration and sadness over the lack of opportunities for their child. They become accustomed to the word “no” and being told that their child is not meeting expectations.
This project is also an opportunity for families to celebrate together. Kalel’s family reached out after the publication of the book to ask if his little sister could present 1, 2, 3, Count with Me to her Grade 5 class. She wanted to share the story with her classmates because her brother is an author.
To our students, their families, and our team, this book is much more than a publication. It is an opportunity for readers to discover the story behind the story, for young children to see that students with diverse needs can be authors, illustrators, and creators. This project creates visibility and builds the expectation that our students can achieve goals like all other learners. Most importantly, this project creates conversations around learning and what we can do as educators to facilitate and forge student success.
In Burnaby North Secondary’s Access program, we strive for intentional inclusion. This is achieved by placing the needs of the diverse learner at the forefront, acknowledging their quality of life, and ensuring that they are the ones who learn and, most importantly, have fun in every experience. In our program, we do not have a one-size-fits-all formula to inclusion. We believe that inclusion looks different for each student, and programming is built with the co-operation of the student, their family, and their medical support personnel. By sharing this project with our community, we hope that our readers can join us in advocating for intentional inclusion, in living richly amongst laughter, and in continuing to aspire for a better world.
1, 2, 3, Count with Me: A Bug Can Count if You Believe (pictured right) is priced at $15. Each book costs $10 to print and the remaining $5 goes toward our Shopify website, packaging, and shipping. Any profit that is made will go toward an activity chosen by the students in the Access program at Burnaby North Secondary. You can order a copy of the book from bns-access.myshopify.com.