When looking at a school that is renowned for its inclusive practices, one usually discovers that it has a backbone – in both senses of word. First, it has “grown a backbone,” in that those dedicated to inclusive education have stuck to their guns and have maintained their commitment to the philosophy and practice of inclusion, despite regular onslaughts from naysayers. Second, there is usually someone who is the backbone of the organization when it comes to practicing inclusion: that person who epitomizes inclusion in everything they do, who is the guru, the mentor, the “go to” for those who want to learn more, be more and do more on the inclusion front.
Touting a reputation as “the first in the province to become an inclusive school,” Nackawic Elementary School (NES) has backbone – the backbone to claim that reputation amid repeated suggestions that inclusion isn’t working, and “that” person, the one who is the backbone of inclusive practice, standing strong and carrying the others along when times are tough.
At NES, that person is Resource Teacher Nicole Priest.
Ms. Priest is one of seven of New Brunswick’s best “exclusion busters” to be honoured at the 2018 National Inclusive Education Awards ceremony held 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.
Ms. Priest was nominated by NES’s principal, Larry Graham, and co-workers Jennifer Morehouse, a Grade 1-2 teacher, and Grade 2 teacher Kelly Gunter. All three describe how Ms. Priest has been a leader in inclusive education at NES.
“I have long known that the backbone to our success in [inclusive education] is the leadership of Nicole Priest,” Larry Graham wrote in his nomination, adding that Ms. Priest is a strong advocate for not only students who have a disability, but for all students. From keeping up to date on current policy, practice and ideology on inclusion, to taking the lead in disseminating information to parents, teachers and administration, to meeting with parents and teachers regularly to plan and complete students’ personalized learning plans (PLPs), to scheduling EAs so that all students are well served, Ms. Priest is heavily involved in every aspect of NES’s inclusion process.
“Nicole is also an instructional leader,” Graham added. “She organizes school PL on inclusion, and offers co-teaching and coaching to teachers to help them personalize their students’ learning.”
Jennifer Morehouse also discussed Ms. Priest’s role in establishing NES’s reputation for inclusion. She wrote: “Inclusion has become a part of our school culture . . . [and] Nicole has been a key player in the development of this mindset. She has modelled inclusion in her interactions with students and she has mentored many teachers and helped them accommodate students in their classrooms.”
Regarding Ms. Priest’s interactions with her students, Morehouse wrote: “Nicole goes out of her way to accept and include all students in all aspects of student life . . . Her goal is to enable each student to have success and feel valued.”
Nicole “continually emphasizes the importance of looking at all students for what they can do, rather than what they cannot do,” Grade Two teacher Kelly Gunter stated in her letter of support. “You often hear her say, ‘we will start with what the student knows and move on from there.’”
In summing up, principal Larry Graham quoted a student Ms. Priest works with who simply said, “She cares for me.”
The Canadian Association for Community Living has been recognizing outstanding inclusive practices 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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