At Forest Hills School (FHS) in Saint John, N.B., there is a shared understanding that each student needs, and deserves, personalized supports, strategies and adjustments to learn. Each student. Not specifically the students who have a disability, but each and every one of the almost 700 youngsters in classes from Kindergarten to Grade Eight.
If this sounds familiar, it may be because you’ve heard about “student-centered learning,” an approach to education that focuses on each student’s needs, abilities, interests and learning styles – an approach that is the foundation of New Brunswick’s Education Policy 322 for Inclusive Education.
“The Forest Hills School Community is actively engaged in creating and furthering an inclusive school culture,” Jason Burns, the Teacher Representative on FHS’s Parent School Support Committee (PSSC), wrote recently. “The school’s Continuous Improvement Plan is built on the premise that learning environments must encourage and support the physical, academic, social and emotional, and cultural involvement and inclusion of every student,”
These statements formed part of the PSSC’s successful nomination of the school’s entire staff – the principal and vice-principal, the teachers, educational assistants, admin assistants and the custodians – for a 2018 National Inclusive Education Award. The National Recognition Certificate was presented at an awards ceremony at Government House in Fredericton on Thursday, February 9. Presented by the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL), the certificates recognize individuals or groups that have made or are making an outstanding contribution to inclusive education in their province or territory. The event, organized by NBACL on behalf of the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL), is the focal point for celebrations marking National Inclusive Education Month.
“Forest Hills School makes it clear that ‘inclusion’ is critically important,” Jennifer Power Scott, chair of the PSSC, stated in a letter of support for the nomination. “The school’s motto, in fact, talks about building ‘inclusion, capacity and learning communities.’ It is significant to me that the word ‘inclusion’ comes first.”
At Forest Hills School, “no one is marginalized because of a disability or other challenge,” Ms. Power added, citing examples such as a student with hearing and visual disabilities running a sign language club, a breakfast club that welcomes all students so that there is no stigma attached to attending, and a student who can’t sit for long periods of time being permitted to stand “or even dance” at the back of the classroom.
Another parent, Melissa Isfeld, also endorsed Forest Hills School as worthy of national recognition, referring to the “excellent staff members that are willing to go above and beyond for each of their students” – students who have the usual ups and downs, as well as students with disabilities.
“Students that struggle with day to day regular home stuff, emotions or whatever is going on in their lives, usually get missed,” Ms. Isfeld observed as she recounted the story of her eight-year-old daughter, who has difficulty dealing with her emotions. Her teacher “takes the time to sit with my daughter and talk, and give her different ways that she could deal with the emotions that she is feeling at the time.” While Ms. Isfeld used to worry that her daughter would “fall through the cracks and not care about her education at some point,” she noted that knowing that the teachers “care so much puts my mind at ease.”
“Forest Hills School is a wonderful community where all kids are respected and included,” Jennifer Power Scott wrote. “My children see beyond disabilities and diagnoses and think of all their classmates as ‘normal kids.’
“In this respect, our society and schools have come such a long, long way since my childhood in the 1970s, when kids with disabilities were often relegated to ‘special’ classes or institutions and had little or no contact with other children,” she said.
“I feel fortunate that my children are growing up in a more enlightened era and are attending such a wonderful school!”
The Canadian Association for Community Living has been recognizing the outstanding inclusive practices of individuals working in Canada’s education system annually since 2007, with provincial and territorial community living associations like NBACL charged with accepting nominations and selecting recipients.
NBACL is a provincial, non-profit organization that works on behalf of children and adults with an intellectual disability and their families to end exclusion and ensure that persons with an intellectual disability live, learn, work and participate in community as valued and contributing members.
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