Most parents love sending their kids on a school field trip, but when your child happens to have a disability those journeys outside of their comfort zone can make a mom’s heart sink.
When the notice about an upcoming field trip to the Falls of Ohio State Park hit Shelly King’s inbox she immediately began to worry. Shelly’s daughter Ryan Neighbors was born with Spina Bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly in the womb.
At age 10 Ryan has already had more than 32 surgeries to correct her spinal deformity, and she relies on a wheelchair to get around. Ryan’s school, Tully Elementary School in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, has always been great about accommodating her disability, but Shelly wondered how in the world they’d pull off a field trip that involved hiking over rocky hills and streams.
“Obviously, NOT accessible,” Shelly wrote on her daughter’s dedicated Facebook page. “I was preparing for an ‘alternate field trip day.'”
Yet as it turns out, Shelly needn’t have worried. A teacher who works at the school and was planning to attend the field trip reached out to Shelly and offered to carry the 55-pound child on his back.
“I’m happy to tote her around on the falls all day!” Jim Freeman wrote to Shelly. Shelly happily accepted his offer, noting that he’s not even Ryan’s teacher but he still offered to carry her because he wanted to make sure all of the students were included in the experience.
“That’s how wonderful this man is,” Shelly said. “We’ve never really talked. I didn’t know his first name before he offered to do this.” Sure enough, a friend of Shelly’s shared photos of the field trip, and they’re too sweet for words.
All day long Jim carried Ryan in a special backpack carrier as the class explored the state park, including traipsing over river banks and onto massive rock formations dating back millions of years. Ryan was thrilled to be able to experience the trip along with her classmates, making memories and learning first-hand about the wonders of the earth — and human kindness.
Shelly’s Facebook post about Jim’s kind deed went viral, and people were quick to hail the teacher as a hero. But for Jim, carrying Ryan on his back was never a question; he knew he was strong enough to do it and as far as he was concerned, it was his duty to make sure she had the same day as her fellow students.
“This is just one physical act that you can see, but we do this countless times throughout the school day and throughout the year,” Jim explained. “All the teachers here at Tully and JCPS, they work harder than most people realize.”
It may have been all in a day’s work for Jim, but it made a huge difference to Shelly and Ryan. Shelly says she hopes seeing these pictures will encourage other physically-disabled people to never stop looking for ways to be a part of the world around them.
“To anybody else who is in a wheelchair, nothing should stop you … and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help,” Shelly said. “There are good people out there who want to help you.”
This teacher physically stepped up to help his student feel included, but there are many other ways that teachers create inclusive learning spaces for their students each day. Every kid deserves a chance to see and learn in the world around them. Thank you Jim for going the extra mile for Ryan!
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