The Life Story of

TERI RUSSO

The beginning

Since her days in grammar school, Teri Russo wanted to volunteer her life for a better cause. She became a physician’s assistant in the Navy during the Vietnam War and it was there she had her first experience with children of Down syndrome.

As a physician’s assistant, whenever fathers of Down syndrome children were being deployed, Teri got a chance to meet and evaluate these children for the first time. From her findings, she felt that “they were being wasted and nothing was expected of them, so no one demanded anything from them.” On her own, Teri developed a teaching program and kept notes on different approaches that worked.

After two years in the Naval Hospital in Oakland California, Teri returned to Staten Island, and implemented her program with the Department of Recreation. Once there, she challenged the Board of Education whose Down syndrome students were being mistreated. By educating the politicians, she was allowed to start a toddler program 18 months to 3 years old, which was very successful. However, she noticed the most formative years  - birth to 3 years old – were not being addressed.

As a result, she began a new program in 1969 with two groups, one with mixed disabilities, and the other with Down syndrome. She gave them the exact same program and found the Down syndrome children were just mimicking the behavior of others. This program grew to reverse inclusion.

In 1973 Reverse Inclusion was started. Instead of Teri’s students going to a regular school where they would be the minority, she opened up her school to the regular children of staff members to serve as an example and role model. As a result, the disabled children wanted to speak and act like the regular children.

This was the catalyst that pushed Teri to the next phase.