“I will never forget meeting Sarah Hoyt for the first time,” recounted Kayla Wilcox, whose son attends Liverpool Street School in Fredericton. “She was a walking, talking ray of sunshine!” And as far as Kayla and her son are concerned, Mrs. Hoyt, who teaches Grade 2, has become a beacon of hope and positivity for inclusive education.
Sarah Hoyt “is a champion of inclusion, if I’ve ever met one,” Kayla Wilcox stated in her nomination of Mrs. Hoyt for a 2018 National Inclusive Education Award.
Mrs. Hoyt 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.
“On paper, my eldest son is a complex child with complex needs,” Wilcox wrote in her nomination of Mrs. Hoyt. Describing how her son’s Kindergarten year was spent in what she called “reverse integration,” Wilcox noted that, “I have been told by many professionals that my son is the most complex child they have worked with.” The team in that school was “at a loss as to how best support him in the classroom,” she said.
“He was given many opportunities to be included in a regular classroom and a variety of school activities, but he chose to stay in his separate classroom much of the time.” As a result, Kayla Wilcox’s son’s “stay in a separate classroom lasted longer than planned.”
The situation changed when the boy transitioned to a new school with a new team, including Sarah Hoyt.
“Not once did [Mrs. Hoyt] remark on my son’s file or his deficits, not once,” according to Ms. Wilcox.
“From the start, the focus was on getting him back into the classroom, but at his own pace,” she wrote. To that end, the teacher focussed on connecting with the boy, asking about his interests, and what made him happy.
“When he was not comfortable entering the classroom at first, Mrs. Hoyt skyped him from her Grade 2 classroom and introduced all of the students. She then polled the students on who liked playing Mario game – something he loves – and when he saw most of the students raise their hands, he was happy and felt comfortable enough to enter Mrs. Hoyt’s room.”
Since then, “my son has been invited into Mrs. Hoyt’s classroom every day, but never forced in,” Wilcox explained. “She has a deep respect for children as diverse, equally valuable individuals.”
The teacher’s patience and understanding panned out. “Because of Mrs. Hoyt’s positive, inclusive approach and the deep connection she has formed with my son, he has spent more time in class this past month [November] than he has since the early months of Kindergarten,” Wilcox wrote.
And in late November, he announced to his parents that he was ready to return to the classroom full time!
Dawn Gallow, an educational support teacher at Liverpool Street School, echoed Kayla Wilcox’s praise for Mrs. Hoyt, stating, “. . . in terms of advocating for the students under her care, Sarah leaves no stone unturned. She searches out every possible support option in order to meet student needs.”
Gollow added, “In . . . embracing a flexible approach to student programs, Sarah is a strong model for . . . her colleagues in responding to the diverse needs of learners.”
Liverpool Street School Principal Jennifer Ward also supported the nomination, writing, “In today’s diverse classrooms, Sarah is able to celebrate the uniqueness of each of her students and support their academic and social learning goals,” adding, “This can be challenging at times, but Sarah comes to work each day ready to make a difference in the lives of her students.”
In closing her nomination for Mrs. Hoyt, KaylaWilcox wrote:
“Including children with disabilities at school helps those children be included in their communities, as relationships and understanding formed between classmates continue beyond school. My son is developing social confidence and competence because Mrs. Hoyt fosters an atmosphere of belonging and respect at Liverpool Street School.
“With the inclusion debate alive and well in New Brunswick, teachers like Sarah Hoyt are invaluable.”
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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