Thursday, June 28, 2012

This Week's Inspiring Pop Culture Moment: Laura San Giacomo


Each week we take a look around our pop culture world and try to find one moment that stood out as the most inspiring. It might be a celebrity who is doing charitable things, a TV shows that inspires us to be better or a philosophy that we should all strive to live by. Here is this week's most inspiring pop culture moment.

This week Laura San Giacomo starred in the movie of the week TalhotBlond. But when the actress isn’t working on film or TV projects, she’s championed a much more compelling cause.

Laura’s 16-year-old son, Mason, was born with cerebral palsy. Like any mother, she wanted her child to have a well-rounded life. So she took incredibly inspiring measures.

The Just Shoot Me star explained, “We started a fully inclusive school about 11, maybe 12 years ago now, which is a public charter school. The focus is full inclusion, which means that everyone goes to school together all day long — kids who happen to have disabilities, typical kids and gifted kids sitting side by side in the classroom.”

The venture was such a huge accomplishment that it’s seen an incredible expansion over the years. Laura noted, “It’s been a very successful elementary school and middle school. We started with 70 kids, now it's over 700. And it has reached really good scores.”

It also got on the radar of some pretty heavy hitters. Laura described how the school was even adopted by Arnold Schwarzenegger. She recalled the connection to the then Governor of California, saying, “[It] was given to him by his wife for his 60th birthday to be his flagship school.”

The Golden Globe nominated actress described how transformational the school could be for students. “There's some really wonderful things that happen. First kids realize that everyone is different and everyone is the same and everyone is to be valued. That's something that really adults need to learn. Kids just automatically value each other.”

Laura continued, “Within the first 100 days of school there was an NPR radio show that came to our school to do a piece on inclusion. And the journalist who was there was really setting up situations where she was trying to get the kids to describe each other by disability and they really didn't.”

She recounted the experiment, “She would say, ‘Whose backpack is that?’ Knowing it was someone who was in a wheelchair or who maybe was deaf — we also had a deaf and hard of hearing program at that time. And the kids would say, ‘That's Johnny's. He got it for Christmas. It's his Justice League backpack. He's over there he's in the red shorts.’”

Laura added, “They would describe him as they would any other child — not by disability but by color of hair or shorts or whose class they were in. And it was a beautiful lesson for all of us to learn that right from the get-go disability can be completely normal. And that's how most of us who founded the school live our lives, because most of the parents who had the energy and the drive to found the school were actually parents of kids who happen to have disabilities.”

And more than just getting along, Laura pointed out the children have been given a real sense of empowerment. “It was really wonderful when all of the typical and gifted kids who go there got to be leaders, got to have friendships, got to help other kids, got to be inspired by other kids. Got to learn that we all give our friends a lot of leeway and those kids learned that right from the get-go. And that everyone was a valuable member of their class even if they happen to not be able to walk or talk.”

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