Really Cool Idea to Promote Self Advocacy

this is an awesome idea!

This week in the TIES ( Transition to Independence a Employment and a Success) Program the team of young adults are focusing on Self Advocacy techniques. It is awesome that they can speak up, self disclose a disability to receive accommodations in college and the work place– BUT what if they offered their users manual to instructors or supervisors? What if these young adults entered their post-school life with a users manual?

The process of writing the users manual would ensure that they get to know themselves. Then sharing the product, using it as an ongoing project would be a game changer. I am going to incorporate this into the weeks lesson plans on Self Advocay. So glad I found this resource at

Here is an example of the author’s users manual
Ashley Hutchinson recommends we, as teachers also write a users manual. I am looking forward to doing this with my students tomorrow!


Staying in the NOW!

SO proud to know all of these famous people who were featured in the Keys Style January Edition!

Take a minute and read three awesome articles in this January Edition:

Teacher Spotlight  pg. 4 and 5

Ship Happens-Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) pg. 26-29 

Student Council Members Seek to Improve Their School for Every Student pg. 6-9

What great articles about our little island!

I love living here and experiencing the connection we all have, a connection that supports EVERYONE to reach their ULTIMATE Goals. Sometimes I get bogged down into the logistics of planning future events, writing lesson plans, scheduling practices, doing paperwork, watching from the sidelines, networking and facilitating opportunities for my students/athletes, that I neglect look at the results that are evident TODAY.

These articles cover a great teacher and our local Special Olympics Director at Horace O’Bryant Middle School, the lifestyle born from meetings at the Lazy Dog picnic table and the Key West High Student Council moved me tremendously.

Reading these made me look outside the “To Do” list and returned my feet to the NOW.

2014 is going to be EPIC!

2014-01-04_0741 Invitational Maria Teacher Spotlight


The Next Chapter

Working in Public Schools my entire career has given me security and unpredictability at the same time. A paycheck that is predictable every two weeks, insurance and knowing that I have a job until I choose to retire gives me security in an ever-changing world. Yet each year the new curriculum, staff changes, latest fads and the newly created systematic policies cause stress. As soon as I think I have it all figured out, know which piece of paper to turn into the proper administrative office to get something accomplished for my kids, it changes and I am required to redo my efforts. As I get closer to retirement, I am ready to let go of the security and release the frustrations that are brought on by the systematic yearly changes. The NEXT CHAPTER is in sight! I have earned it!

My students also receive security in the Public School System, receiving services they are entitled to by law. Yet as they get closer to age 22, the loss of security is scary for them and their families. As they reach the NEXT CHAPTER in the life of a young adult they want all the things a 20 something wants–college, independent living, to drive a car, to have friends without a paid person accompanying them and they have earned it!

The loss of my time in accomplishing administrative tasks in the never-ending changes of Public School,  is not one that my students can afford. My students, ages 18-22 with special needs are in the final chapter of their school career. The lines between IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) entitlements and ADA (Adults with Disabilities) rights are getting firmer and darker. In their younger years, my students have been entitled to every service imaginable and the law supported their requests. As they move into the adult world the rights that they have as adults are not guaranteed, their IDEA services do not transfer over to the adult world.

They may or may not qualify for funding to continue with speech therapy, occupational therapy, a job coach, unpaid work experience sessions or one to one instruction in the adult world. Most likely they will not qualify for those services under the adult providers on our island. Maybe in the “Real World” of the mainland or other states, but on our island the adult services are limited to what our local ARC  provides, which includes Adult Day Training (ADT)  program, Supported Living, Group Homes, Community Inclusion Activities and limited Employment Services. All the services are contracted via a provider that may or may not exist on our island. My young adults are limited by funding sources, if they want to be in an activity that provides independence and individuality, the funds may not support that desire.

Special Olympics has become a VERY important part of the lives of these young adults, giving them a FREE year round sports and social opportunity to be active in the community without a paid person controlling their time. Each athlete can be an individual and explore things that they would never have explored in the ARC or Adult Provider model of services. This is why I am so dedicated to giving Special Olympics countless hours of my unpaid time. Yet, this organization, as a non-profit has its systematic challenges and does not offer the security of the Public School System, I am finding that I am drawn to exploring the options Special Olympics volunteering can offer for my NEXT CHAPTER —— Retirement.

Recently I realized that I have spent my entire career giving others an opportunity to have a life, working to move systematic mountains to give them their dreams. Helping them open the doors to the NEXT CHAPTER of their lives. I am getting tired, yet I do not want to stop doing what I do for “my kids”. I am exploring my early retirement options and trying to figure out how to have a life of my own. This is scary for me. I am addicted to predictability, security and situations that offer me a sense of control.

As I move forward into the Early Retirement plan, I am learning that there are some secure things I will need to let go of. The idea that I will receive a cushy pension and that my insurance will be fully paid for was something that hooked me into this career in the 1970’s. That promise is changing for all of us. How we deal with it is an individual choice. I choose to take action and responsibility for my NEXT CHAPTER of life, not sit and complain or try to make the union take care of me. I am not sure where this will go or how it will look, all I know is that I am ready. Since the start of this school year, I have heard these words during my early morning coffee/meditation time:

“You have spent enough time giving others a life, it is time to get your own. Actively pursue Early Retirement”

I am going to honor that inner voice. There is more to be revealed as I take the actions needed to find out how I can exit this profession prior to age 62.

The Tipping Point

Special Olympics Florida-Monroe County SUP Team and Coaches

Special Olympics Florida-Monroe County SUP Team

After many months of ignoring a stirring in my soul, doing everything I can to keep the longings for change in check, yesterday it was brought to my attention by someone I admire and respect deeply, that I am overlooking an opportunity that can answer the calls of my heart AND make huge differenced in peoples lives.  Tears came to my eyes as her words were felt by my heart—the inside core of me that had been longing to be heard. I realized how selfish I have been in not asking for help.

The catalyst to the TIPPING POINT—-

This article was published in my hometown newspaper, The Jupiter Courier, causing attention to be brought to the SUP in Special Olympics movement that is sweeping across Florida and beyond. There have been other articles, social media and press about all of this—-but this one hit me hard. I left Jupiter as a young girl, not well-known, a young girl who was always in the background in high school and who was known for not making very good choices socially.  The contacts that came from this article were a bit overwhelming–personally and professionally.

Yes,  I am from Jupiter originally and my childhood is on the Loxahatchee, but my home and heart reside on this  island  of the most giving people I have ever met!  On our island, when someone is in need, there is an uprising of help, there is always an awareness of each other and even when we do not agree, we work to make a difference, we strive to accept each other.

This article represents how a dream I had a few years ago has gotten much bigger! Each time highlights and success stories like these are published I am so proud, yet it is getting overwhelming for me—a simple teacher who does not know how to manage all of this and does not seek public recognition.

This dream has grown beyond its intention of providing access to the water via a paddleboard to my Special Olympic athletes here on our island of Key West.  It is a good thing that it has grown, but it also has distracted me from my island, myself and my peeps! Yesterday’s conversation reminded me to bring it all back home to our island–where the magic happens.

When people and Special Olympic Coaches from around the State of Florida, along with people in other states, email and call me, wanting to get programs going in their areas, I feel pulled. My day job as a teacher and the program I run has its responsibilities and now more keeps piling on. The inner conflict of trying to handle something I know nothing about–business, press and the next steps for this dream — have caused me to neglect my own health and wellbeing.  Until yesterday, I truly thought that this conflict had to be fought alone.

The TIPPING POINT–brings me to the realization that I MUST ask for help in figuring out how to change my life so I can stop adding more to the plate–some decisions need to be made and I need help in figuring out how to do that.

In overlooking and undervaluing myself, I have also undervalued the people and organizations who have joined in the dream, to make a difference in the lives of people on our island. Realizing that, makes my resolve to implement changes even stronger.

The TIPPING POINT —-the realization that the dream is now a reality and there must be some definition to it all.

It is time to refocus–time to bring the mission back to where the dream started, refine the mission and act on it:

at a picnic table in front of a  paddleshack at Hurricane Hole Marina on Stock Island

in the currents of the Cow Key Channel

on a paddleboard in shavasana

in Shark Key Channel and Gieger Key

One of my greatest defects is dreaming and have a passionate vision, starting a project, getting it off the ground and soaring, rejoicing in it and forgetting to define where we are going!   and then there is a crash—–Yesterday’s conversation helped me see that there does not have to be a crash–that this island has a magic ability to help this dream sustain itself

Today I feel some hope that it is possible to create some space in my life–I really want to be the best Ruth I can be so I can continue to make a difference for my peeps!

Happy Happy Happy

This link will be hosted on the Project 10 Transition Network site for 30 days.
This makes me happy to see the hard work of the TIES staff and students featured.
I presented this at the Region 5 Institute in February of 2013.

I think I need to figure out how to save it here once the link expires.

As spring break approaches I am feeling Happy Happy Happy as I prepare for my annual evaluation which requires I pull out all the years accomplishments. My students have done an awesome job this year, working on individualized goals and becoming young adults.

The program is becoming systematic and everything I have been studying about UDL (Universal Design for Learning) Post Secondary Programs for students with Intellectual Disabilities is all paying off!!!

Ten Commandments for SEP Teachers

Ten Commandments for SEP Teachers.


As I read this bloggers post, I am reminded of the simple things that are part of my educational practice. And it is just that, it is a practice, to be refined, evaluated and reflected upon—not for judgement of self or others. Internalizing and refining the practice of educating youth with special needs is the core of who I am, yet I pray that I will NEVER forget to practice Commandment 10!


For some reason I am having flashbacks to my other lives. Thanksgiving seems to bring glimpses of the lives I have lived….some good, some disturbing….a writer could make these pondering  into a 4 book series–20’s, 30’s, 40’s and now midway through the 50’s!

I am grateful for every moment t it took to bring me to this glorious island, where I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams!

As I sit on the screen porch, watching the winter light emerge in the sky, feel the cool breeze, hear the birds awake–experiencing the magic of a Key West morning— thoughts go to the people and places that influenced me, hurt me and guided me along this path–people who I am not in contact with anymore, places I have left and will never return to, I ponder on how live is for those people in those places and wonder if our paths will ever cross—I have heard it said that if you sit still on this island, eventually everyone will pass you on the road in and out!

The baggage that was left behind, the emotional investments that were not returned, the financial losses, the personal items–things I thought I could never live without, all that is  left behind–takes its toll, and yet, I am alive still creating chapters in this recent book,  full of gratitude because I choose to believe God has a purpose — which I continually seek.

I wish I had stayed in one place, stayed in one relationship that would have developed roots, grown strong and developed branches of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren—for some reason those desires, no matter how strong did not materialize. Maybe my people chooser was not developed or the instincts needed make good choices were not strong enough–for what ever the reason, my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s have all been lived as separate books, now into the middle of the 50’s edition–with starts and endings that brought me to this spot.

One commitment has stayed constant, no matter what turn the relationships or financial investments took–marriage, step children, parents, in-laws, step grandchildren, boyfriends, business investments, houses purchased and sold—As each book ended and another one started…..

My commitment to Special Education–all the bad choices I made, the joys that tried to distract me, the brilliant ideas that caused me to look away, the self delusional moments, did not erase the deep-seated commitment in my heart to special needs youth.

This is not a bad place to be–in my mid 50’s, looking at 8 years left of a very satisfying and constructive teaching career. The blessings that my students have given me through the years have  come back to me 10 fold!

Gratitude for the privilege to experience the subtle and sometimes minuet  learning moments in each child’s life overwhelms me. Realization that I have been blessed with moments in the lives of my students that others will never see.

I am pondering starting another book—-going after my Doctorate Degree, putting my life’s work into a dissertation that will be my legacy. This is not societies norm–most folks leave a legacy in their families–children, grandchildren and marriages–mine will be in the world of academia–where I have grown deep roots, roots that hold a huge tree of children, young adults and their families.

Reflections at 54

My birthday is not such a big deal to me—it never has been. Falling in September it seemed to get lost in the mix of school starting and others birthdays falling near it—my younger brother Mark was born on Sept. 11 and my mom’s birthday was on Sept. 30.

When I was 4 the group parties started, Mark was born the year I turned 4. I will never forget that birthday. Before I expound on why that birthday is so significant, it is important for a bit of a back story. Please stop reading at this point, if you become bored easily with family stories—for me, this story is begging to be told, if only to stay within the walls of this blog!

I remember my mom’s pregnancy and looked forward to having a baby brother, I was already a big sister–my brother Brad was born 18 months after me and our family of four was a happy one. We had lived in Fairfax, Va. where I was born at Ft. Belvoure and Tacoma, WA, where Brad was born. My dad was in the military serving his ROTC years after college, and I remember him coming home from whatever he did during the day, playing with us, he was larger then life to me, my daddy. Daddy would always make everything better, but there came a time when he couldn’t no matter how hard he tried, but in later years he gave up–he could not fix Special Needs. We learn to live with it or we run from it.

By the time Mark was born, my dad was out of the Army and we had relocated to Jupiter, Florida. Dad was working for Pratt and Whitney—we were to become known as Pratt Brats within the community. In the 50’s the space program was growing, the history of those years, the growth of South Florida are ingrained in me—part of who I am today–and another blog topic for another day!

Mark was born in West Palm Beach, accessed by US1 or A1A, I remember waking to Grandma Sears (my mom’s mom and one of the women I am named for–Ruth Marie Sears–a beautiful lady!) telling me mom and dad were going to the hospital and soon I would have a baby brother or sister. I was so excited–to me it would be a baby doll come to life! Little did we know that the baby doll would fill our lives with joy and extreme sadness at the same time for many years to come.

Mom and dad brought Mark home, after an extended stay at the hospital, due to complications at birth. I was told he was sick and he needed to stay with the Dr. a little while. I thought he was the most beautiful baby, of course at 4 years old, my point of reference was a bit limited! I held him in my arms and loved him! He was born with a club foot and soon would need surgery to correct it. I am unsure of how all that went down, if he came home and then went back to hospital or it was done in the hospital before coming home, all I knew is that my baby brother needed special care and mom told me she was counting on me to be her helper.

This all happened somewhere between Sept. 11 and my birthday on Sept. 21—Grandma Sears was still staying with us and I think she tried to give me a special birthday and baked a cake, angel food—-my favorite to this day! I was told I got a baby brother for my birthday—I was so happy! And when mom told me she was counting on me to be her helper—I took that very seriously! Little did I know the road our family was starting down and how much of a helper I would become.

Today at 54, I can tell you the journey from that 4th birthday to today has been a wild one—lots of stories, but I shall spare you many gory details!

When Mark finally came home with a cast on one of  his little legs, mom and Grandma Sears noticed that he was not achieving the milestones of a newborn, and as he approached age 1, he did not roll over or recognize mom or dad–things he should do—he did push himself up on he hands, smile and start to say AHHHH! I would lay next to him on my tummy, after I came home from kindergarten and push myself up and say HI! He would copy me and we played like that for hours! It was pure joy to see the little developments he made. His laugh was so infectious.

Mark never progressed past that newborn pre rollover action—he remained a baby—but his body grew into a young man—needing all the care a baby needs. Requiring hours of feeding to nourish his body, bottles and baby food. Mom and I become hooked on the “stories” on TV–I would relieve her from feedings when I came home from school at 2 p.m–just in time for General Hospital (still my favorite soap opera!), so she could get housework and dinner ready for the family. Brad would help too, but I took the roll of Mark’s helper very seriously and never thought Brad could do it “right”–I became very assertive about my baby brother. To the point of kicking a lady in the store when she  and her friend pointed and laughed at us—Mark must have been about 10 then, to take him to the store mom had to fit him into the baby seat in the cart, doubling him over, he had no muscle tone and folded up quite well (no ADA accommodations or adapted carts back then ) —the lady and her friend even told my mom, she should not bring Mark to the store and that her other two kids were running wild and being neglected, I think the lady even told my mom to put Mark in a home–Brad and I were playing, being kids in the store–today I marvel at how my mom did it! When I saw my mom cry, I kicked the lady. That is one of my most vivid memories of those times.

There are many happy memories too—Driving in the station wagon, with Mark laying in the back, along Skyline Drive, picnicking at the Gettysburg Battlefields, with Mark on the blanket while Brad and I climbed cannons, Sunday drives through the backroads of Va. rooting through barns for antiques with mom, flying to Indiana to visit grandparents in a small Cessna my dad piloted–My parents found ways for the family to travel and enjoy the outdoors, still accommodating Marks’ limited abilities –it was easier for them to find ways for us all to have fun when he was small, but as he grew our family activities became limited.

My dad progressed with Pratt and Whitney, becoming an executive, his job took him back to Washington DC to work with the Defense Dept. as Pratt’s liaison and then back to Jupiter again to work out of the Jupiter plant. When we moved to Country Club Drive in Tequesta, Brad and I joined the ranks of the Pratt Brats at Jupiter Middle/High School—we were in Paradise–Jupiter in the 60’s and 70’s was AWESOME! I am so grateful that my life is influenced by those years. Playing in the Lox River with manatees and dolphins, camping and surfing on the beach, riding in swamp buggies and airboats—the best way to grow up!

As we prepared to move into this awesome house, and dad’s position in Pratt required more travel, along with entertaining influential government people (my mom could pull together and diner party in 10 minutes, she was amazing!) to sell the Pratt Engines, it became harder for mom to care for Mark at home, his medical needs were increasing.

Our parents made the difficult decision to have Mark placed in a facility in 1970. Back then, these were not nice places, my mom resisted it for a very long time.  Needless to say the care of Mark over the years put a big strain on my parents marriage, resulting in an ugly divorce many years later. They both lived with many demons connected to being the parents of a severely disabled child. Today I embody their best qualities, no demons—only joy– coming to this place has been a process of many tears, grief and love—I miss them both deeply on days like today.

When we moved to Tequesta, I enrolled in Jupiter HIgh School, I was Ruth Finch and I had one brother known to the world. Mark was living in Maitland, Florida at the Kraddle Kare home. I cried and cried the day we left him there, it was a nice place but I was confused.

Mark had been the focus of my youth and preteen years, any plans that were made for me to participate in activities with other kids revolved around his feeding times and when mom would be available to take me—it must have been a nightmare for her to plan Brad’s and my activities. Often I did not get to do the things other kids did. She did her best, becoming the leader of my Brownie troop so we could meet at the house, she could be my mom and still be near Mark—I was not always the most grateful kid either, battling for her attention or displaying passive/aggressive kid behavior.

When he passed away, I was 17 and it was my senior year of high school. It felt so strange to have this huge life event happen, the death of a brother, without a community to share it with. None of my friends knew much about my brother, nor had ever met him. As a family, we went out to the ocean and sprinkled his ashes. It was odd, it seemed we had been grieving for so long and now it was over. My parents were not getting along much at that point—my memories of that boat trip are very hazy.

One thing my mom did, and I was a part of with her, is to lobby the US government in the Kennedy years for laws under the ADA to give assistance to families who have disabled children. The premise of that first parent group, which she founded, was paying school taxes and paying for private services for their special needs children was unfair.   Special Needs children were being denied school services due to disabilities, and affordable respite care was not available.  Her work resulted in the passing of PL 94-142, the precursor to the current IDEA laws. This would help me later in college–it is amazing what a kid learns by osmosis, when taking care of her brother and listening to her activist mom at the meetings!

As a teenager, entering into High School, I was not very socially prepared, boys and the teenage social stuff confused me. My High School memories are not supper awesome, not do I have many bonds from that time in my life. The one area I excelled in was the Student Council For Exceptional Children and volunteer work at the local ARC preschool. Go figure!

Mark not being in our family, gone and out of sight, left a hole for my mom too—our family dynamics changed quite a bit. Dad traveled a lot for his job, mom went with him sometimes, but most of the time she was stuck with me-an angry confused young lady. She became active in the local ARC and was hired as the first Child Find Advocate in Palm Beach County. She was amazing, but I did not see it then.

Brad, who was going through his own things. To me it appeared he was the new favorite child, gaining all the attention, today I know he had his own issues, we never talked about them back then, nor do we dwell on it now.  Brad jumped into Jr. High and High School, excelling at sports, he made a fantastic niche for himself, going to college on a sports scholarship, meeting an awesome lady, who is now his wife—he has become THE BEST Dad and Grandpa I know! His legacy, he is giving the world through my military nephews is amazing! It was not easy for any of us, but we are stronger people today for what we went through, we are able to embody the Grandpa Finch’s motto—“It does not matter if you become a ditch digger, but be the best GD ditch digger you can be!” We are a blessed family!

Today at 54, I realized that 50 years of my life has been influenced by Special Needs. When I went to college, everyone said I should major in the new and upcoming field of Special Education—I tried to run from it in many ways—almost got kicked out of USF! When I took an intro to Special Ed class, I got the first college A in the two years I was enrolled, and here I am today! I have been married and divorced—never had children of my own, regretted that at one time—but now am grateful God set my life up in this way. I see how His plans have pushed me to be part of something REALLY BIG and REALLY GOOD!

Happy Birthday to me! God has blessed my life in ways I could never have imagined on that 4th birthday! Pondering on the next 50 years fills me with wonder—–My God will ensure it is going to be a wild, crazy and fun ride!

This was taken shortly before Mark passed away. I still wonder what gains he would have made if he could have experienced the Special Needs services we have today.