It’s the little project that grew, and what it has grown into could add a new and important dimension to social studies courses in New Brunswick’s middle and high schools.
New Brunswick’s history curriculum currently includes a retrospective of many of the province’s distinctive communities – the Acadians, the Indigenous People, and those of African descent, for example.
“But our youth are learning nothing about the history of another distinctive community of New Brunswickers – those who have an intellectual or developmental disability,” said Danny Soucy, Executive Director of the New Brunswick Association for Community Living (NBACL).
“That’s something we’re hoping will change, thanks to the efforts of a group of volunteers who were key players during a crucial part of that history.”
Soucy was speaking at the wrap-up of NBACL’s year-long 60th anniversary celebration. The event included a look back over the year’s events and accomplishments, including the completion of a project documenting the history of New Brunswickers who have an intellectual or developmental disability.
The project started as a proposal to mark the Association’s anniversary. The people who had been instrumental in bringing about significant change during the early years of the Community Living movement in the province were aging, and they were concerned that the history would be lost when they were gone.
“There were many important lessons to be learned from the times before, and when, Community Living got its start in New Brunswick,” said Julie Stone, one of the members of the committee that formed to preserve the movement’s history.
“The timing was right,” she added. “NBACL would be marking its 60th anniversary; Canada would be celebrating its 150th; and there was grant money available for projects researching and recording the history of some of Canada’s distinctive populations. There was no doubt in our minds that New Brunswickers who had an intellectual or developmental disability could be viewed as distinctive so, as they say, ‘The rest is history!’
“And what a history it is!” said Stone. Entitled “150 years of Inclusion,” the completed project is a celebration of the progress of persons with an intellectual disability in New Brunswick over the last 150 years. It has been produced as a website, with an eBook featuring an interactive timeline. That timeline takes viewers from the early 1800s, when people with an intellectual or developmental disability were confined to jails, asylums, almshouses and residential schools, right through to today, when they go to school with their peers, can live at home, in supported living arrangements or in homes of their own, and can work and be included in their community.
“This history project is about more than just reminiscences and progress, though,” said Danny Soucy. “We in the Community Living movement believe that the lessons it teaches about the harmful effects of exclusion and segregation need to be shared widely to safeguard the future of inclusion of persons with a disability.”
The first people who need to learn about that history are the students and teachers in today’s inclusive classrooms, according to Soucy.
“Although we have had inclusive education in New Brunswick for several decades, most teachers and students probably don’t know how this came about, and why it is so important,” he pointed out.
To assure that students and teachers would learn how inclusion developed in New Brunswick, one of the grant proposals for the project stipulated that the history should be shared with several schools in the province.
“And that’s where it became the little project that grew,” said Soucy.
“Rather than just reviewing the history website with a few classrooms of students, we have developed a Unit of Study and have produced it according to Department of Education Social Studies guidelines, so that it is ready for use in middle and high schools across the province.”
Comprised of seven lessons, complete with teacher and student led activities, extension suggestions and graphic appendices, the Unit focuses on creating awareness, understanding and appreciation of the steps and struggles involved in making inclusive education a reality.
“It represents an important piece of New Brunswick’s history, just as the struggles for empowerment faced by our indigenous population, our Acadian citizens, women and those of African descent, did,” said Soucy.
The Unit of Study was piloted at Devon Middle School in four grade seven classrooms earlier this year and has been, or soon will be, similarly piloted at Nackawic High School, Forest Hills School and St. John the Baptist-King Edward School in Saint John, and several francophone schools in the northeast, including Domaine des Étudiants in Petit Rocher.
“We don’t plan to stop there, though,” Soucy added. “We’re hoping to meet with the Anglophone and Francophone branches of the Department of Education to explore how the Unit of Study can be incorporated into the Provincial Curriculum Guides for teachers. We also hope to present the history to education and history students at UNB, St. Thomas University, Mount Allison and l’Université de Moncton.”
Funding for the project came from the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors program and from the Community Fund for Canada’s 150th, which was a collaboration between the Fredericton Community Foundation, the Government of Canada, and extraordinary leaders from coast to coast to coast.