The following is a great reflection from Terry Pickeral, Senior Education Consultant for Special Olympics Project UNIFY, on the importance of creating inclusive school environments. This post was originally posted on the Cascade Matters Blog.
In the world of education there is a current stream of outrage concerning the cheating scandal in Atlanta Public Schools. How dare administrators allow or encourage changing students’ responses on tests? How dare teachers participate in such activities that do not accurately reflect students’ competencies? How dare a system create a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation?
How dare they!?
The public’s outrage is warranted. Of course we want school systems that are honest about their outcomes; of course we want students to effectively learn course content and score well on tests; at the same time, don’t we also want our students to experience a school environment that is inclusive, fair, safe, equitable and engaging; and shouldn’t we understand how these are all connected to testing and other educational outcomes?
So, where is the outrage when every day in our schools students, because of race, gender, socio-economics, sexual orientation or physical or intellectual disability, do not feel safe, do not experience fairness and equitable opportunities to succeed and are not engaged in all school activities? Our outrage should not merely be about testing. This is about accountability. Our public schools are created to reflect our nation’s democratic principles and should be held accountable for these civic virtues.
Inclusive schools, according to the Inclusive Schools Network, are built on the strong philosophical belief that all children can learn and be successful within a shared academic environment. Culturally responsive educational strategies, differentiated instruction and positive behavioral supports are some of the inclusive practices employed in academic and non-academic settings within an inclusive school. Inclusive schools offer all students opportunities and support that will allow them to become self-determined, productive, and socially involved citizens – which, in turn, means developing students who are active co-creators of an inclusive school. It’s a generative cycle.
Inclusion should not be an option for schools but rather a commitment and a core value – and in itself an effective strategy – to ensure equitable access and success for students and adults.
Special Olympics Project UNIFY focuses on creating inclusive schools by ensuring all students are encouraged and supported to be “agents of change” – where all students are capable of being leaders, can participate in school activities and encouraged to engage in unified sports (teams of special education and general education students). All students deserve the opportunity to experience an engaging school and community environment that recognizes their gifts and shares them with others. For more information on Project UNIFY visit: http://www.specialolympics.org/project_unify.aspx
The public is outraged when they learn about cheating in schools and makes it an urgent issue for policymakers, education leaders and school staff to address. Shouldn’t there be a similar outrage and sense of urgency when even one student does not feel safe and included in their own school environment?