Teacher Refused To Leave Disabled Student Behind On Class Trip

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When an Illinois teacher faced a dilemma involving a student and a class trip, she was determined to find a solution. She likely never expected that her remedy for the situation would soon have her going viral, but that’s exactly what happened after a photo of the teacher with her student emerged online.

Helma Wardenaar
Helma Wardenaar wanted to ensure all of her students got to enjoy a two-day hiking trip, but one presented a special challenge. (Photo Credit: Facebook)

Helma Wardenaar, an Illinois teacher affectionately called Ms. Helma by her students, became concerned about one of her students and her ability to attend a two-day hiking trip with her class. The 4th-grade student, 10-year-old Maggie Vazquez, suffered cerebral palsy, leaving her disabled and unable to walk. However, the hike wasn’t wheelchair friendly. This, of course, presented a unique challenge for the class trip.

The plan was for students to go to Camp Sullivan, a campground located about 40 miles from their Chicago charter school, the Academy of Global Citizenship. While some would assume Maggie simply couldn’t go due to her disability, that wasn’t an option as far as Ms. Helma was concerned. Instead, the teacher spent months trying to figure out a solution, determined to bring Maggie on the school trip.

Helma Wardenaar was determined to bring Maggie along on the school trip. (Photo Credit: Facebook)

For Ms. Helma, it wasn’t a matter of whether Maggie would go along with her class to Camp Sullivan, but rather how. So, along with other school administrators, Ms. Helma brainstormed how to accommodate Maggie and her needs so the 4th-grader could go along on the trip with her peers. If Ms. Helma had to carry the 10-year-old herself, that’s what she’d do—and that’s exactly what she did.

“There was no question she needs to come with us,” Ms. Helma told CBS News, explaining that the question then became how. Many options were considered, including a special wheelchair, a barrel, and even renting a pony. “I inquired with a friend who had a pony, but the forest preserve didn’t let us because ponies are only allowed on the horse path,” Ms. Helma recalled, admitting she considered using a horse anyway and facing the fine. However, she decided “that wouldn’t be a good example if I purposely broke the law.”

Helma Wardenaar decided she would do whatever it took for Maggie to enjoy the hiking trip with her class. (Photo Credit: Facebook)

Undeterred, the teacher took her quest to Facebook, asking for advice from her friends, which eventually led her to an employee named Greg at Recreational Equipment Inc., an outdoor gear company. Although Greg couldn’t find a carrier big enough for Maggie initially, he contacted Ms. Helma with good news about two weeks later. Greg had found an item called the Freeloader that would be more suitable for Maggie since it caters to taller children.

The child carrier, which was featured on Shark Tank, is specifically designed for carrying kids up to 80 pounds and costs over $300, but that didn’t dissuade Ms. Helma. Instead, the teacher purchased the pricey product after getting Maggie’s blessing, knowing this meant she’d have the difficult physical task of carrying the girl on her back during the class trip. However, going above and beyond to bring Maggie along was a no-brainer for Ms. Helma.

Helma Wardenaar
Helma Wardenaar was so determined to bring Maggie along on the school trip that she carried the child on her back. (Photo Credit: Facebook)

Thanks to Ms. Helma, as about 50 students and 10 school personnel embarked on the two-day school trip, Maggie was along every step of the way. “We saw birds, frogs, and deer,” Ms. Helma recalled. “We were able to do everything her peers were doing, she was one of us,” the teacher added, but admitted that carrying Maggie on her back while outdoors was no easy task. It was, however, worth it.

“There were moments where it was pretty hard,” Ms. Helma admitted, but it was her student who helped her persevere. “Maggie was amazing. She sang her own song. When you have a child who is enjoying the moment and being with her peers, those were moments that I was able to push through.”

It’s not every day that a teacher will literally bear the brunt of a child’s challenges, carrying them on her own back, but that’s exactly what Helma Wardenaar did for Maggie, and the child’s mother was incredibly grateful. “It’s been amazing, right off the bat, she met Maggie and got involved,” Michelle Vazquez said of Ms. Helma, who had known Maggie since the first grade. “She has always been advocating for her. It’s not just with the camping trip, that’s just one little piece. There’s a lot of things she does.”

Michelle is very aware that Ms. Helma went “way above and beyond” for Maggie on the camping trip, and her relentless determination to go the extra mile won’t soon be forgotten by Maggie or her family. “Because of her challenges, she doesn’t get those opportunities,” Michelle explained. “To be out in nature, to experience was pretty amazing for her.” Amazing, indeed. And so is the teacher who made it happen. May her story live on, providing an example to other educators that they truly can make a difference in the lives of their students. It might require a little extra effort, but it’s worth it. Just ask Maggie.