This September, we recognize Sheri Sherman, the Education Specialist at the San Diego Zoo, for her continued commitment to inclusion. Sheri works tirelessly to maintain a program that is inclusive to children of all abilities. We hope you are as inspired by her efforts as we are!
When were you first introduced to inclusion? Why did you choose to become a champion for inclusion?
Thirty years ago, I met Meryl Berk, who introduced me to her son Andy Berk, then 5 years old. Meryl asked if Andy could participate in KinderZoo. Sadly, including kids with disabilities was not the norm at that time. I said yes, and it was the best decision the zoo ever made. Andy brought so much to KinderZoo over the next three years. He was a living example of amazing ability, even though his body had a disability. About 14 years later I met Mary Shea, whose passion for Kids Included Together spilled over everywhere she went. I joined forces with KIT, and through the many resources KIT has introduced to the zoo, I’m happy to say that inclusion and access is a zoo-wide value.
What do you love about inclusion?
What’s not to love? Inclusion makes a positive difference on EVERYONE it touches. When we bring an inclusion aide into a kid’s program, every child in that program benefits from the additional help. Sometimes, we find that our biggest wildlife champions are the kids that inclusion was initially meant to serve. When the zoo practices inclusion on our general visitor population, again everyone wins! Universal design serves everyone!
What is your vision for an inclusive world?
An inclusive world will be achieved when the word inclusion never needs to be said or written, when the word becomes so archaic that’s it taken out of our dictionaries, and when the practice of inclusion is what comes naturally to everyone.
Did you overcome a barrier or roadblock regarding exclusion/inclusion?
Inclusion can sound scary or perhaps costly to people who don’t understand it at first. I suppose I might have run into some road bumps along the way; I wouldn’t say roadblocks. It took some time to educate our large organization about the wisdom behind inclusive practices. I’m happy to say that the zoo has an amazing team of adovates (The Access Advisory Group) who worked hard over the last decade to push us over the road bumps we hit along the way.
What is one of your most memorable inclusion experiences?
I’m hoping you’ll let me give you two. (1) One child at camp didn’t use words, but while he was in summer camp, he said the audible word “snake.” His dad teared up when we told him at the end of the day. (2) Another camper named Mac was surrounded by friends at the end of a zoo day. All of his friends were holding signs that said “Mac is our friend.” Mac also struggles with language, but there is no doubt that he was well aware of the truth of those signs.
What is your top tip that you would give to someone working with children?
Here at the Zoo we often use the quote, “Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius.” – Edward O. Wilson. Keep that quote in mind while working with your kids. Each child is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius. Inclusion unwraps the masterpiece within every child.
–Responses written by Sheri Sherman, edited by KIT staff.
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.