At its first meeting of the 2021-2022 school year, the Evanston / Skokie School District 65 Parent Advisory Council for Special Education stressed the continued importance of creating inclusive educational environments for all students.
SEPAC, which elected its first leadership in May, seeks to advocate for students with disabilities and their families in District 65. The group began forming in 2020 with the aim of raising the voice of parents and caregivers in the community. their children’s education, an effort led by Romy DeCristofaro, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services. Marquise Spoon-in-time and Kelly Baldrate are the co-chairs of the board.
“Our mission is for kids who have IEPs and 504s,” Baldrate said. “But I see the vision is broader, and this is really the greatest value of inclusion in our community.”
Guest speakers Julie Causton and Kate MacLeod defined their idea of inclusive education at the opening of Tuesday’s meeting.
Both speakers have a background in research and are co-founders of Inclusive Schooling, an organization that supports administrators, educators and parents who want to create more caring and creative inclusive schools for all learners. Their team organizes live lessons, workshops, presentations and innovative support for accessible education.
In the past, special education relied on removing elementary school students from their classrooms to receive services such as speech therapy and occupational therapy. This method can be disruptive to a classroom environment and prevent students from learning from each other, the couple said.
To be more inclusive, general and special education teachers should co-teach and meet students where they are, in their own classroom, they said.
“We no longer accept that separate classes, separate schools and separate lives are in the best interests of all students,” said Causton. “Belonging is a human need, (and) our education system, our practices and our spaces must be rethought. “
Inclusive education helps all students, Causton said. She referred to a list of findings on inclusive classroom practices, which found they created benefits for all ages, ability levels and subjects.
During the meeting, Inclusive Schooling shared their video “Because of Oliver,” a story about a student with the autism spectrum. Rather than sending him to special education, his teachers create lessons that teach everyone in the class. They change the rules for sitting “crisscross applesauce” and allow students to write, speak or type their answers.
Throughout the virtual event, they asked people to send chat messages and find connections with other attendees.
“We really want an interactive (space), we want to engage with you in the chat, we want you to share with us, and we want you to participate in a way that makes you feel good,” MacLeod said. “Really think about comfort, watch when you want, engage when you want, turn your cameras on and off. “
Throughout the meeting, leaders also modeled inclusive practices. An hour into the session, Causton and MacLeod encouraged participants to turn off their cameras and do a two-minute stretch. After the break, they encouraged participants to return to the space at their own pace, as learners return at different paces and people complete tasks at different times. Causton said that as an educator she needs to be comfortable with variations over time.
Causton and MacLeod also modeled a way co-teaching can look like. Sometimes Causton would speak while MacLeod wrote in the chat to illustrate the inclusion of different teaching styles.
“Everyone benefits from meaningful participation and opportunities to learn grade level content with a variety of peers,” MacLeod said. “We have to trust that all the students come to us as amazing people who don’t need fixing.”
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