Recently we read a story about a unique effort an elementary school in Vermont made to educate it’s students on the importance of inclusion. Champlain ElementarySchool hosted its first Reading for Inclusion program, featuring a panel of ten readers with a range of disabilities common in public schools, including autism, cerebral palsy, visual impairments, and learning disabilities.
But they didn’t stop there. The panelists read stories about children with disabilities and answered questions about the challenges of maneuvering every-day life. They emphasized universal kindness and looking at “who we are on the inside, and not on the out,” said fifth-grader Sandy Ong, age 11. She added that “just because somebody has a disability doesn’t mean they can’t play with you.”
Vermont’s state policy is making children with disabilities as “mainstream” as possible, and Champlain has worked hard to embrace it’s community. “Every child, whether they have a disability or not, has had some experience unfortunately with being excluded,” said one teacher. Helping students establish an emotional connection, the teachers engaged them in discussions about how they feel when they are left out, and brainstormed ways to reach out to others.
At the end of the day, it’s about empathy. If we can educate children about their peers with disabilities and give them strategies to reach out, everyone can benefit. We are encouraged by and thrilled to see change at work and encourage you to partner with organizations striving to do the same in our North Carolina community!
Have you seen or experience any movements like this? Do you know of any great initiatives in our area that are going on? Let us know, we’d love to hear about the ways our community is growing to include everyone!