Before starting this journey, I had little prior knowledge of Serbia and didn’t know what the culture would be like.
Our group from Indiana University had meetings and assignments to prep us before we exited the country, and I learned we would be touring disability specific schools and facilities for individuals with disabilities. In my head, the idea of using separated schooling was an old and outdated system, which led me to assume that the schools would also be old and outdated.
The very first school we toured, St. Sava, opened my mind. The more schools we toured the more I noticed a sense of family among students at the schools we visited, especially those who lived together. Each school we toured felt like more of a community than a facility. I observed the older students interacting with the younger students, as well as students with different disabilities interacting with each other.
The schools we visited in Serbia also separated children by diagnosis. Milan Petrovic School serves children with disabilities, and within the school, classes are further separated for children with visual impairments or intellectual disabilities, etc. to allow for specialized care and teaching strategies. In most American schools, students who have a disability are integrated into traditional classroom environments wherever possible.
This experience has opened my eyes to the pros and cons of inclusive models, used in the U.S., and disability specific environments, often used in Serbia’s therapeutic programs. This intrigued me to think about improving programs for youth with disabilities. I ultimately concluded that while there is a natural social community and specialized teaching strategies that can form in disability specific environments, there aren’t as many equal opportunities.
When our time in Serbia came to a close, the trip was far from over.
Our group transitioned to working at Bradford Woods, at therapeutic summer camps for children with disabilities. I again found myself in an environment that places kids with others who share the same
disability (for one week per year) but this time, in America. Anyone who has ever worked at a camp for kids, for any length of time, knows the sense of family found at camp. At Bradford Woods, I see the same sense of family that I found impressive in the facilities in Serbia.
Ultimately, I believe Serbia and America both have a lot we can learn from each other, and it is trips like this that allow such learning to take place. Even though I am extremely sad that the trip is over (and wish I could redo the entire thing), I now have the opportunity to pull from my experience and use it in my practice as the adapted recreation program instructor for Bradford Woods this summer.