Inclusive Schools Week is Dec. 4-8

Published 1:33 pm Saturday, December 9, 2017

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 schools have made in providing a supportive and quality education to all students, including those who are marginalized due to disability, gender, socio-economics status, cultural heritage/ethnicity, geography and language.

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It also provides an important opportunity for educators, students, and families to discuss what else needs to be done to ensure that schools continue to improve their ability to successfully educate all children.

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. The idea of inclusion started early in the last century with the inclusion of women and girls in more advanced educational opportunities. In the 50s and 60s, the inclusion of students from all race and ethnic backgrounds became a focus.

Many people see continued strides in the inclusion of students with disabilities in the general education environment as one of the last great Civil Rights initiatives.

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.

There are many opportunities for inclusion of students with disabilities in Austin Public Schools. At the earliest levels, we focus on inclusion of children
with disabilities in typical preschool classrooms.

At the elementary level, special education teachers participate in “push in” programming to provide support for students within the general education setting.

At the middle school and high school settings, some special education teachers team with general education teachers to co-teach core curriculum classes.

This allows students the benefit of accessing content area specialists and strategy specialists at the same time. Additionally, teams work to provide special accommodations to students to allow them to participate with their class.

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.

We have also seen a focus on including students with disabilities in extracurricular activities, with supports as needed. Students are also included socially with support from peer mentors in our Peer Power Partners program.

We look forward to continuing to expand opportunities for all students to participate moving into the future.