Although there has been a turning point in our education system towards people with diverse abilities, it is still heartbreaking to know that people with diverse abilities were once labelled as “idiots” or “academically weak” and experienced segregation by being excluded from mainstream education. The article “Oh, Canada: Bridges and Barriers to Inclusion in Canadian Schools” discusses inclusive education and the changes that have been made or are currently being made in Canada to be able to implement it. The article opens up with the following statement, “Inclusive education means that all students attend and are welcomed by their neighbourhood schools in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life of the school” (Sokal & Katz, 2015). With that, inclusive education is far more than just mainstreaming students with diverse abilities into a regular classroom. Inclusive education is enabling students with diverse abilities to be supported and cared for in a classroom that meets their needs. Furthermore, to be able to create an inclusive environment in the classroom we, as teachers, must take into account the unique needs that the children need in order to be successful. We must also be open and be willing to work with other professionals to make the students’ school experience the best it can possibly be.
In elementary school, I never had any classmates with diverse abilities, but I do remember students in other classes who did. One example is a boy who was one grade level above me who had a diverse ability and required full time assistance, as well as an oxygen tank, and a wheelchair. His name was Benji. I remember seeing all of Benji’s classmates playing with him and taking turns to help push his oxygen tank and wheel chair or help with any other assistance Benji needed. Another example is Logan, a girl who was a couple years younger than me and also required a full time EA, a walker, and orthotic braces. At recess, I had the opportunity to interact with these students and ask questions about their diverse abilities. I believe this helped me in becoming more open to learning about diverse abilities. I also believe integrating them in a regular classroom encouraged the other students to become great helpers and allowed them to develop empathy towards others at a young age. “[…] they defined social inclusion as each child being a full and respected member of the classroom community, including feelings of belonging, of being cared for and of being a part of something larger than themselves.” (Sokal & Katz, 2015) Furthermore, not only did this inclusivity benefit the typically developing students, it also benefitted Benji and Logan by giving them the chance to interact with children their age in an environment that fits their needs. With that, the classroom left each child feeling welcomed and respected.
When I got into high school, my school had additional education programs. These programs included two options: the alternative education program which includes modified curricula and the functional integrated program which is designed to integrate students with intellectual disabilities into the mainstream classroom. High school is where I was exposed to more severe types of diverse abilities, such as both high-functioning and low-functioning autism, Down’s syndrome, and cerebral palsy. I believe my high school did and continues to do a fantastic job at inclusive education. Although they do have a classroom specially designed for students with diverse abilities, the students are still able to take part in regular school activities and are constantly encouraged to interact with the typically developing students. One example that my high school did that I loved were the special Olympics. During track and field season, the special education teachers hosted an event in which all the students with diverse abilities had the chance to participate at the field house and bring back medals and trophies. All the regular classes would go out into the hallways and cheer them on as they got back to school with their prizes. The look of excitement and pride always made me so happy.
A final personal experience of mine was actually working as a practicum student at a school designed especially for students with diverse abilities. Prior to becoming an education student here at the University of Regina, I took the two years at Saskatchewan Polytechnic and received my diploma in early childhood education. For my final practicum, I had the opportunity to work at John Dolan School in Saskatoon. The goal of this school is to help students with diverse abilities to gain a strong foundation and school experience for them to be able to be integrated into an inclusive school environment. I believe this is where my entire view of diverse abilities was changed. At John Dolan, I was able to gain incredible hands-on experience working with students of various ages and abilities. Not only did I learn how to make the environment inclusive and learn how to program and design curriculums for these students, I also had the chance to care for them and create meaningful relationships with them, their families, and the staff. I believe that this experience will definitely help me in my future classroom in creating an inclusive environment when it is needed. I believe that this school is beneficial for students who have very severe cases of exceptionalities because due to funding or special requirements, other schools may not be able to accommodate their needs. As the article states, “Thus, while many students in Canada may be physically included in general education classrooms, many are not receiving the supports needed to truly be socially and academically successful and included with their peers.” (Sokal & Katz, 2015). Although true, it breaks my heart to know that there are students who are unable to experience inclusivity or when they do, these schools may not be able to meet their needs in order for them to be successful students.
Through all my personal experiences, I believe that I have grown so much as a person and I am open to learning so much more, which is one of the reasons why I am excited to teach. In our last class, we had the chance to talk more about inclusive education and its importance to the development of both students with diverse abilities and students who are typically developing. Not only does inclusive education benefit students in helping them develop empathy towards others, it also proven to enhance their academic achievement, social development, and confidence as individuals. The article states that as of 2008, “[…] the current educational placements of students with special learning needs has suggested that we are still far from our goal of inclusive education across Canada in terms of physical, academic and social inclusion.” (Sokal & Katz, 2015). With that, I believe that raising awareness about inclusive education, gathering the appropriate supports, and collaborating with other professionals will help in providing inclusive education to all. The article states “Teachers are key to successful inclusion, and as such they are important partners in the change process.” (Sokal & Katz, 2015) Thus, as future teachers, it is our role to ensure that students receive the proper education and support they need to grow and be successful. Inclusive education does not only ensure that students receive the support and respect they need, it also gives us the chance to celebrate each others’ differences in positive ways.
Sokal, L., & Katz, J. (2015). Oh, Canada: Bridges and barriers to inclusion in Canadian schools.