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A Teacher Refused To Exclude A Disabled Girl From A Hike, So She Devised A Truly Ingenious Plan

Maggie Vasquez

Maggie Vasquez is a fourth-grade student at The Academy for Global Citizenship. She has cerebral palsy, which makes it difficult for her to get around. To move, she needs to use a walker because of the weakness she experiences in her legs and her back. On most days, this is too much of a struggle for her. She has been going to school since kindergarten. Maggie is a very talented singer, and she hopes one day to be like her heroes, Taylor Swift, and Selena Gomez. According to her teacher, she is a strong, smart, funny, and sweet little girl.

Helma Wardenaar

Helma Wardennar is a teacher at The Academy For Global Citizenship, and she is Maggie’s teacher. She moved to the United States from Holland and has been teaching at the school ever since.

The Academy For Global Citizenship

The school is located in Chicago, Illinois. It is a public charter school whose mission is to educate students using an innovative and holistic approach. Before the school opened in 2008, it was a dental tool factory, and it sits on the southwest side of the city. The school’s founders visited schools all over the world, and this is where they got the ideas for many of the concepts that they have implemented in the school. There is more to the school than education. The children learn how to eat properly, and are only served meals with organic ingredients. The students even do yoga every day.

Helma’s Part

Helma was one of the teachers who visited other schools. She researched countries in Scandinavia. There, she found some pretty fantastic schools and ideas.

Money Is Tight

The community doesn’t have much money; therefore, money can be tight. Many of the children who attend the school have special needs, ranging from learning disabilities to autism. Catering to these children costs more money than the district has, so they rely on donations to help pay for the equipment and the special care that the children need.

The Field Trip

The school was planning a fourth grade field trip to Camp Sullivan in Oak Forest, Illinois. It was a trip that everyone in the class was looking forward to, except Maggie. The group was going to be hiking on rocky and uneven terrain. This meant that she wouldn’t be able to safely get around with her walker or in her wheelchair.

Needing a Solution

Helma didn’t want Maggie to miss out on the trip to nature with the rest of her class. She knew that she had to come up with some way that Maggie could enjoy the trip, despite her disability. Helma says that it was never the question of it she could go. It was always how she could go. All Maggie ever wanted was to do the same things that her classmates could, so Helma had to figure out something.

Alternate Routes

Some people suggested taking alternate routes on the hike, and stick to areas where the terrain wouldn’t be so difficult to pass. Helma didn’t want to do this because it might spoil the trip for the other children. Another teacher suggested that Maggie ride a pony. When they spoke with the forest reserve, they found out that this wouldn’t be an option either. The school would have to pay a fine if they brought a pony onsite, and breaking the rules wouldn’t be setting a good example for the other kids.

Seeking Help

Helma contacted an outdoor supplier in Coleman named Greg Coleman. Helma thought if there were a way that she could carry Maggie, she could enjoy the trip. Unfortunately, after hours of brainstorming, they couldn’t come up with something suitable for a 62-pound child. Helma put the idea to rest but Gary couldn’t let it go. A few weeks later, Gary called Helma. He was thrilled because he came up with an excellent solution.


Gary suggested that Helma carry Maggie in a Freeloader. It is a back carrier with a harness, so that it would be safe for Maggie to wear. The only problem was that it would cost $300, and the school didn’t have the money. Helma decided to pay for the Freeloader herself. A teacher refused to exclude a disabled girl from a hike, so she devised a truly ingenious plan. Thanks to Helma, Gary, and their persistence, Maggie was able to enjoy the field trip with the rest of her class. She didn’t miss out on anything, and she said that she had the best time. Helma is one of those special teachers who truly cares about her students. If it weren’t for her, Maggie would have missed out on a unique opportunity to enjoy nature.

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