Tara McNeill, National Inclusive Education Award Recipient for 2021

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Tara McNeill

Where others would see obstacles, Tara sees opportunities. One of only a few women teaching industrial arts in the province and, to her knowledge, the only one with red seal certification, she’s focused on “making it happen” and sees her students for what they can do, rather than for what they can’t.

When Cassandra, a grade 12 student with Down syndrome, expressed an interest in car detailing, Tara did what she does best – she made it happen. She showed Cassandra how to stay safe in the industrial area and provided her with brushes, a shop vacuum, and cloths. After her first day in the bay, Cassandra came out beaming.

 “She’d done something she loved and wanted to explore. No one stood in her way,” said Lori Thompson, a resource teacher at Fredericton High School. “Her sense of purpose was starting to show… It has had a huge impact on how I want to continue finding ways to provide students with intellectual and physical disabilities opportunities to explore their career interests.”

Cassandra’s resource teacher and her mother have both witnessed her grow as she’s pursued her interest – one that provides her with career opportunities after high school. Meanwhile, Cassandra’s presence in the shop, coupled with Tara’s can-do attitude, have rubbed off on the other students.

“My buddy and I are going to build a ramp so wheelchairs can get in the shop area. It’s because of Cassandra they are doing this. She is in the shop area and everyone… should be able to be in the shop,” wrote a 17-year-old classmate of Cassandra’s in a note to her mother.

Tara, for her part, is looking towards the future. She has a long-term goal of revamping the shop so it is ability-friendly, and is consulting with the school’s resources department to learn how it could be configured into a space that is inclusive and welcoming for everyone.

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