Reach for the Stars by Margaret Hart
Two nights ago I was literally glued to the television, watching, in awe, a wonderful movie entitled, “A Smile as Big as the Moon,” based on the book of the same name by Mike Kersjes. If you miss the chance to see this Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, please read the book.
If you are the parent of a special needs child, I know this story will bring a smile to your face as big as the moon. It is about a class of special education students, who, against all odds, were the first special needs kids to attend Space Camp in the early 1990s. It was their teacher, Mike Kersjes, who fought to get both the principal of his school, as well as the director of the camp, to allow the kids to attend. That was a hard- won battle. He then had to come up with $50,000 to fund participation. Fortunately, he had a generous donor. Kersjes, like the kids in his class, is inspiring. He is the kind of teacher I wish every child could have.
I grew up understanding what special needs meant before the term was born. My younger sister was born with Down’s syndrome, and my mother was a special education teacher. For years I watched my mother fight for the best opportunities for my sister, as well as for the students she taught. She was beyond dedicated, spending most weeknights with materials spread across our dining room table, preparing for the next day’s lesson. Mike’s triumphant story struck a deep chord with me because he reminded me of her: an inspiring and dedicated educator, and a tireless advocate for the rights and needs of individuals with various forms of mental retardation.
If you aren’t familiar with Space Camp, it was founded in 1982 to promote the study of math, science, and technology. In its early days, the camp catered to gifted and talented students. Today, thanks to Mr. Kersjes, the program accepts individuals regardless of ability or intellect. It is arguably one of the premier programs of its kind in the United States.
A Smile as Big as the Moon is a story about what can happen when someone believes in you. It is a story about the human spirit. About perseverance. And it is ultimately a story about acceptance. We all want to be accepted. And when we accept one another for our differences, and celebrate what makes each of us unique, we will find that it is possible to reach for the stars.