Inclusive Schools Week is Dec. 1-5

Published 10:15 am Friday, November 28, 2014

By Sheri Willrodt

Director of Special Services, Austin Public Schools

Inclusive Schools Week is celebrated annually the first week in December by families, schools and organizations around the world. The week highlights and celebrates the progress that schools have made in implementing inclusive practices to ensure a quality education for an increasingly diverse student population.

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Inclusive Schools Week provides an important opportunity for educators, students, and parents to discuss what else needs to be done in order to ensure that their schools continue to improve their ability to successfully educate all children. It is an occasion to acknowledge the hard work and commitment of teachers, administrators, students, and parents in making their schools more inclusive, and, thereby, significantly contributing to the development of a more inclusive society. Now in its 14th year, Inclusive Schools Week is celebrated by thousands of school districts in every state in the U.S. and internationally. In addition, more than 50 educational and cultural associations and media outlets support the Inclusive Schools Week.

Stories appear daily about the state of our schools and their failure to meet the educational needs of our children. While there is much to be done, we have made progress toward including more children into the nation’s academic agenda. Not that long ago, many of our children were excluded from our classrooms, with children left out due to race, language, economic status, or mental or physical challenges. In the past 20 years, our schools have worked toward access for ALL to public education. Children who were once isolated and marginalized are now thriving, productive members of a larger school community. Children who were routinely denied educational opportunities are now discovering, exploring, and, most importantly, achieving. Schools that were once homogeneous are servicing a rich array of students, and while these inclusive practices have been, at times, difficult to implement, their positive impact is clearly demonstrated through each individual success. These successes will be celebrated during Inclusive Schools Week, Dec. 1 through the 5.

During this week, school districts across the country are working to educate their staff, students, and parents about what it means to be inclusive. Inclusive is not about being politically correct. It is about making sure that our country’s educational system works for all students including students with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, students of low socio-economic status, and students with disabilities. Research has consistently demonstrated inclusive teaching practices are not about teaching to the lowest common denominator but rather ensuring the classroom offers opportunities for ALL children to succeed. Inclusive teaching means presenting information in ways that are relevant and meaningful to each and every student. Discussion, hands-on learning experiences, and inquiry-based projects are all examples of inclusive teaching practices that have, again and again, been shown to improve academic achievement for all students. While noting there is so much more to be done, let’s applaud the progress being made every day toward building more inclusive schools and communities.

During its November meeting, the Austin Public Schools Board of Education proclaimed Dec. 1 through the 5 to be Inclusive Schools Week at Austin Public Schools. In celebration of this week, the Austin Public Schools Special Education Advisory Council, The Arc of Mower County, and Community Against Bullying have teamed up to present a free public viewing of the documentary film presentation “Who Cares About Kelsey?” The presentation and discussion will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 2, at the Austin Public Library. This film examines the social and educational inclusion of youth with disabilities. The film documents a family’s journey as they work to meet the mental health needs of a teenage girl named Kelsey, a journey that transforms all of them. “Who Cares About Kelsey?” also features other families with varied inclusion experiences, plus interviews with dozens of teachers, young people, parents and disability rights experts. All are invited to attend.