Would You Swim in an Integrated Pool?

Four summers ago, the film adaptation of the musical “Hairspray” (itself an adaptation of a non-musical movie) was released. I vaguely knew what the storyline was – overweight girl who loves to dance, set in the civil rights era – and took Sarah Kate to see it. As expected, she loved the music and dancing and was completely oblivious to the darker theme of segregation in 1960s Baltimore.

We spent the entire summer (and most of the fall) listening to the soundtrack, belting out the songs as we drove down the highway (a pastime that Mr. Andi did not particularly enjoy). Eventually, “High School Musical” and Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus tunes took over the playlist and “Hairspray” faded into the background – although I did revisit “Good Morning, Baltimore” the next fall when I ran my first marathon there.  Out of the blue, during dinner last night, Sarah Kate asked, “What’s an integrated pool?”

I hesitated.  How should I answer that question? I have always wanted Sarah Kate to have an understanding of history, but I was afraid of the questions that might follow.  In particular, I wasn’t sure how to answer the inevitable “Why?”

I asked her what she had learned about Dr. Martin Luther King in school. She had a vague recollection of him being a “nice man” until I reminded her that a few decades ago, she would not have been able to go to the same school as her friend, Gracie. Mr. Andi also told her that they wouldn’t have been able to ride the bus together, eat in a restaurant together, or swim together. With that prompting, she remembered her prior lessons about Dr. King. The history refresher course on integration could have ended there, but I took it a step further.

“Did you know that were still some kids that weren’t allowed to go to school with the other kids, even after integration?” I asked.

Sarah Kate answered, without hesitation, “Yes – the ones with Down syndrome and cerebral palsy and other disabilities weren’t allowed to go to school with the other kids. That was wrong.” She never ceases to amaze me in the way that she picks up on concepts that I thought were unknown to her. In that moment, I envisioned my (no longer little) girl not just mindlessly singing the Hairspray soundtrack, but doing so with a clearer understanding of the film’s message.

♪ Would you swim in an integrated pool? ♪

I sure would! I’m all for integration! It’s the new frontier!

In Sarah Kate’s mind, there is no segregation.  She recognizes differences between individuals that make each person unique, but that’s where the divisions stop. To her, kids are just kids – not “white kids” or “black kids” or “poor kids” or “rich kids.”  She understands that they are all more alike than different. She doesn’t see any reason why all children can’t go to the same schools, restaurants, churches, and so on.

Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same way. Some people still believe that being different necessitates being treated differently; “separate but equal” was the mantra of segregation – yet it was anything but equal. Some parents would still prefer to keep children with special needs out of their typical children’s classroom. A boy with cerebral palsy and his mother were recently escorted out of church on Easter Sunday. A young girl with Down syndrome was not allowed to travel on a British Airways flight recently, even though other children her age are routinely able to do so.

Oh, how I long for the day when everyone is willing to swim in the “integrated pool!”



  1. LeeAnn says

    Some amazing kids see life that way now! My 3 y/o son has Ds, and one day I was commenting to my 7 y/o daughter that I saw another kiddo at the park w Ds…her question was awesome……”how do you know he had Ds?” Simple question. She sees all kids as kids. Love it. Sara Kate is awesome! It’s amazing how important integration is to typically developing kids as well as those w special needs. It’s a win win.

  2. Ann Marie says

    Andi and Mr. Andi,
    I think SK’s wise thoughts come from the house where she is raised. I am a teacher and one of the mantras you hear in the hallway a lot is “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”( especially after parent conferences). Keep being wonderful role models! Children learn their values from parents.
    Oh and if I knew how to swim, I too would swim in an integrated pool! :)

  3. Todd Bailey says

    To my Friend Andi, this is probably one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking things I have read. You and Mr. Andi have done a fantastic job with Sarah Kate, and I am sure Nathan just as well. Let’s hope ours and mine grow to make this a more tolerant world.

  4. says

    For some aspects of my DS son’s life, I have relied on my own judgement about what was restricted access for him based upon his own behavior. He tends to hum and tap objects on himself or more noisy surfaces so I look to be considerate of other people who would have something like a school concert spoiled by Jim’s actions. Whether a pool is integrated or not is irrelevant to me when I am focused on making sure my kid has had a BM before showing up.

    I agree with the mom in the airline story because she knows what her child can deal with…my kid’s no where near that level. The church incident has less to do with CP and more about creating a distraction like any crying baby or noisy kids that should be somewhere else that has a way to listen in on the services. I bought a $15 baby monitor as a cheap “sound system” and people could hook up a webcam.

    My son’s school situation is now a balance of a small classroom with a few other SN kids and he has some time spent in with the regular 3rd graders. These past few years had more individualized attention without much contact from other SN kids. He spent his first 1/2 of preschool in an integrated classroom and the next 1/2 year at a special ed school.

    When I first came to the tiny (650 pop.) town I still live in, the director of special education was opposed to carting him off to a SN classroom and at the time, the psychologist thought that Jim wouldn’t be stimulated enough amongst kids who were much less functioning. That may have been true back in 2008 and the school did their best to educate Jim but I wanted him to be somewhere on a regular basis that allowed some contact with “different” kids… because we were seeing more frustration and I thought Jim was too isolated.

    SN Kids should be integrated as much as possible while still providing the individualized attention required. The “regular” kids at both of Jim’s schools have been just wonderful to him and kids need to have these experiences too if anything is to change in the places still holding out. It seems like some people can only think in the extremes when striking the right balance of integration and separation is the key.