Micah with his family, father Rich Feldman, mother Janice
Fialka, and sister Emma, 15.
Story: ‘The Ride Of My Life’
For those interested in more information
about inclusion (and to read Micah Fialka-Feldman’s
article on the subject), go to the Web site of Inclusion
News at www.inclusion.com
Also see KASA (Kids As Self Advocates), a
national network of teens and young adults with
disabilities and special health care needs, sharing
information and resources around healthy and successful
transitions to adulthood, www.fvkasa.org.
To learn more about Micah and see a video
of his high school run, an interview of him and of his
high school teacher Sharon Berke, click
For more information about the Disability
Pride March in Chicago, July 18, click
here or call (773) 263-6378.
The program is designed to help students with special cognitive
needs transition from high school into college classes and to help
them participate in campus life. Few programs of this kind exist
across the country.
Usually, special-needs students are segregated throughout their
lives in special-education classes through high school and in
living situations that can provide supportive environments. But
little is available for those, like Micah, who want to be included
in the daily lives and dreams of the general population.
“The value of this program for Micah is if he wants to
perform as a non-disabled person, he needs role models to see what
that looks like,” says Rebecca Craig, assistant director of
special education in the Rochester Community Schools. “He has
the right like anyone else to be with his peers and to make
connections to jobs.”
Craig worked with OU to create the pilot program called the
Rochester Community Schools Post-Secondary Transition Program in
Partnership with Oakland Schools.
“Micah is teaching us that he’s capable of many things,”
Craig says. “The general student population will also gain from
this program and get a better understanding of students with
disabilities and see that they have many abilities.
“The program teaches compassion for others — it’s a
win-win situation,” Craig says.
“It’s a fun program and I like taking my classes and
meeting people,” says Micah, who cannot read or write well, and
whose speech is slightly impaired. He also participates in campus
activities, such as Hillel and the Social Work Club.
But Micah is no stranger to inclusion. He was the first student
with cognitive disabilities in the Berkley Public Schools to be
fully included from elementary through high school. His parents,
Janice Fialka and Rich Feldman, translated their 1960s activism
and ideals into building a supportive community of friends, family
and professionals around Micah.
Micah’s achievements, like celebrating his bar mitzvah or
earning his letter in cross country, were double victories — for
Micah and for the students and teachers who worked with him,
“He’ll be an inspiration to everybody at Oakland
University,” says Sidney Schechet, 17, of Southfield, who met
Micah through a Friendship Circle program five years ago. The two
have been meeting once a week ever since. The Friendship Circle is
a Lubavitch-based social service agency in West Bloomfield.
“It takes guts for Micah to go to Oakland University,”
His first few visits as a Friendship Circle volunteer with
Micah were formal. Eventually, the two started biking, doing
homework together and going to the JCC. “Micah taught me the
value of friendship — to see the inner goodness of people.”
Oliver Hersey, 21, went to Berkley High School with Micah. He
admits he was looking for an easy credit when he volunteered to
take class notes for Micah, but their relationship grew into a
“I learned what inclusive education is with Micah,” says
Hersey, who is studying to be a teacher.
“We all learn differently,” Hersey says. “But it’s time
for people to step out of their boxes and meet Micah. We get
scared when people look a little different. But for inclusion to
work, we need to swallow our fear and find something out about the
Mainstreaming or inclusion is an important part of current
thought in special education, says Robert Wiggins, associate dean
in the OU School of Education and Human Services.
Students in OU’s program learn coping skills and how they can
become independent adults, he says. “They learn what kind of
assistance they need so they can transition from high school into
a full, satisfying life. The emphasis is not to put limits on
Under the program, Micah takes classes for the experience. He
won’t earn a college degree, but he’ll discover ways to put
his interests and college experience to work for him.
“Micah could probably tell you more about the upcoming
presidential campaign than anyone else on campus,” Wiggins says.
Politics is Micah’s passion. He is an award-winning political
activist who is currently interning for state Rep. Andy Meisner,
D-Huntington Woods, in Lansing.
“Micah inspires me to fight for what’s right,” Meisner
says. “He’s not going to be a second-class citizen. Micah has
a vision for the way things should be and he’s taking
affirmative steps in making that a reality ... like having a
Micah says he hopes to work in Lansing to increase awareness on
issues from disabilities to the environment, to lobby and to pass
This summer, he will be part of the first national Disability
Pride Parade July 18 in Chicago.
“Unless you have a child with special needs or health needs,
you have no idea what that’s like,” says Micah’s father, a
researcher in national organizing for the American Federation of
Labor and author of End of the Line: Auto Workers and the American
“All parents want their child to be healthy and capable of
interacting and shaping the world around them. So when Micah was
born [needing early help, like physical and speech therapy], the
fear for his future was a constant concern.”
Micah’s mom, who has a master’s in social work, became an
expert. She’s now a national speaker, author and trainer on
strengthening the partnership between parents and professionals,
inclusive education and other related disability issues.
Micah’s parents came to the realization that every new
relationship — whether going to school or meeting a friend —
was not just about Micah learning a new skill. “It was also
about another person becoming conscious of respecting and
including Micah in their world,” his father said.
Micah’s younger sister Emma, 15, remembers trying to change
her brother when she was in second grade. She wanted to “make
him the fifth grader he was supposed to be” — the older
brother who didn’t stutter or who could help her with her
homework. But that didn’t happen.
Over the years, she says, she learned compassion from her
brother, how to be patient and to smile.
“There’s nothing easy about being a brother or sister to
anyone,” Emma says. “But I love lots of things we share, like
playing basketball and soccer, talking politics or just making
each other laugh.”
Protective of Micah, she’s also aware of how people
unconsciously use the “r” word — retarded — that implies a
put down, she says. It pains her that anyone would pass judgment
on her brother before meeting him.
Working with these difficulties, however, have yielded great
triumphs for Micah and his community.
A major achievement was Micah’s bar mitzvah at Workmen’s
Circle-Arbeter Ring in Oak Park, feldman says. Micah’s project
included videotaped interviews with three Jewish politicians: U.S.
Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich.; Manette Miller, Wayne State university
board member; and then-state Rep. David Gubow.
At Berkley High, another triumph surprised everyone. Though
Micah could run only a block, he wanted to join the cross-country
“Because the coaches worked with Micah and set clear goals,
and his classmates were so supportive and cheered him on, Micah
ran a two-mile run in 23 minutes and earned a varsity letter in
cross country,” Feldman says.
Another special event, Micah says, was being nominated to the
homecoming court in his senior year. The triumph was also a
victory for inclusion, says Fialka. Michael Boyd, the senior who
nominated Micah, has known him since second grade. “Michael will
always have a different view of people with special needs or who
are different,” Fialka says, “because of his relationship with
Micah’s relationship to his peers continues to grow, along
with the skills he learns from them.
One skill he had to learn quickly was how to take the bus to
college, an hour-long ride with a transfer in Pontiac. A friend
traveled with Micah a few times, showing him the route until he
was ready to travel alone.
Once at school, depending on the day, Micah works at the campus
day care center, exercises with a trainer at the gym, and takes
three classes. For the classes to be most effective, Micah asked
students in his class, his peers, to study with him. Two
volunteered from his sociology class. They meet with Micah an hour
before class twice a week to review their notes together.
One result of their meetings, says OU Sociology Professor Linda
Morrison, is that Micah does as well as the other students on
quizzes, which he takes voluntarily and are given to him orally
(he does not read or write well).
“Micah’s more friendly than most students,” says Nicole
Bertrand of Troy, one of Micah’s peer volunteers. “I was
surprised how open other students are talking to him. I never
witnessed that before [with special education students],” she
His other peer, Theresa Bjoerke of Rochester, recruited for the
OU soccer team from Norway, hopes to get her master’s degree in
psychology when she returns home. She says she and Micah have gone
out to eat and to basketball games because Micah wanted to
experience college culture.
“He doesn’t pick up class information easily, so we help
him,” she says.
The peers learned ways to help Micah from his mother, she says,
who suggested tape-recording their discussions so Micah could
“Inclusion in college is a good idea,” Bjoerke says, adding
that she hopes to bring the idea back to Norway. “It’s
important not to limit people’s lives. I’ve learned a lot from
Micah, like how different people function and how you can adjust
and adapt to that.”
Professor Morrison says the goals set out by pilot program
director Suzanne James is to give these young people a chance to
experience college life. Each person in the program does that
differently, with different goals and abilities.
Micah, she adds, is motivated, very optimistic and positive
about enlarging his experience in the world.
His mom emphasizes the importance of the simple things people
do for Micah.
“His story is of many people doing ordinary things that end
up with extraordinary results.”