Inclusion is a Family Affair
Alex and Jessie Brown tag team their teaching techniques in an intricate dance that centers around inclusion.
The married couple teach at UCP’s East Orange Charter School. Alex teaches second and third graders, while his wife teaches fourth and fifth grade. Jessie, a former educator at SeaWorld Orlando is in her first year of teaching and relies on her veteran teacher husband for tips on students and projects.
They even talk shop at dinnertime.
Alex has a heart for the children in his class who have disabilities. His career path started as a physical therapist but he changed course five years ago and moved from volunteer to after-school care to substitute to teacher assistant to full-time science and engineering teacher.
Alex was diagnosed at 16 with multiple sclerosis and doctors told him he would never walk again. He brings his old wheelchair and cane to class to show students they should never give up. He compared his MRI with a student who told him she can remember being smarter after a brain injury. He could relate.
“But I’m not the hero, Jessie is,” he said. They were dating 11 years ago when a doctor gave him bad news and it was Jessie who convinced him he had a future. Jessie’s best friend had muscular dystrophy and she could understand Alex’s struggles. Now, medication controls Alex’s symptoms and he is at the top of his game, teaching and coaching flag football.
Both teachers, who have been married for three years, said they marvel at how empathetic UCP students are about including their classmates with disabilities.
All of UCP’s elementary schools are inclusive and half the students at East Orange have disabilities or delays, while the other half are typically developing.
Jessie said her students were worried that a classmate in a wheelchair could not participate when they were outside using rulers, measuring tape and feet to measure a project. So they assigned him the role of “idea person” and he wrote down measurements for his peers.
“The students are proactive in including their classmates because they’ve grown up together,” Alex said. “They actually don’t see disabilities.”
While many students don’t realize the couple is married, they see the team work. Jessie asks Alex about students he previously taught and their learning styles, while Alex often runs upstairs to Jessie’s class to give engineering and science lessons.
The Browns’ elementary students are learning about Native American Indians by building a chickee hut and teepee, creating pottery and cooking traditional foods. The hands-on project has students chopping bamboo, thatching palmetto fronds into a roof and collaborating with their classmates on engineering plans..
“Alex’s energy and synergy coupled with his ability to engage students in project learning is second to none,” said East Orange Principal Roger Brown (no relation), who added that Jessie’s science and biology background prompted him to hire her on the same day as her interview.
The Brown’s six-month-old daughter, Marlow, attends UCP’s preschool and the couple said that her academic success is only 50 percent of their goal.
“We truly want her to be empathetic and kind and understand how to treat people fairly,” Alex said. “We’re lucky we both teach here and know how inclusion works.”