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A Place Where Everyone Belongs: Inclusive Education

On a recent Friday morning at Oakville High School during Academic Networking Period (ANP), nine students gathered in the library. One student, Amela, asks a few of her fellow students what music they like, and about their birthdays, while they all play a game of Jenga. After the pile of Jenga blocks crashes onto the table, nobody bothers to set up a second game. It’s the conversations that really matter here. And even though the blocks don’t get picked up, the conversation does. By now, the discussion is flowing. Just next to them, on the floor, four more students are playing another game while sharing stories and laughing.

The ANP Buddies group at Oakville is in the early stages of development, having met a few only times this year. But bonds are already forming.

“Most of the students wanted to stay longer to hang out,” said Kayla, a senior at Oakville who helped start the group after speaking with a special education teacher who mentioned wanting to find a way for some of her students to work on their social skills. “She brought it to me, and I asked my leadership teacher about it and this is the idea we came up with.

“Overall, it is just a group of students that need help with social skills that our leadership class hangs out with,” Kayla said. “We play different games, do group activities, and/or team building exercises. It’s a way for the kids to feel more included in the school while having fun.”

Inclusive Schools Week is the first full week of December, and celebrates the progress that schools have made in providing a supportive and quality education to an increasingly diverse student population, including students who may be marginalized due to disability, gender, socio-economic status, cultural heritage, language preference and other factors.

Kayla, whose brother received services from SSD, said she understands the importance of inclusion after hearing how he was treated at times. “It’s very important for these students to feel like they belong—because honestly, they do,” she said.

Since the inception of Inclusive Schools Week in 2001, schools have taken steps to become more inclusive. However, according to the Inclusive Schools Network, the week also provides an important opportunity for educators, students and parents to discuss what else needs to be done in order to ensure that their schools continue to improve in this realm.

“The next step would be to stop calling it inclusive education, and just call it education,” said SSD Parent Education and Diversity Awareness (PEDA) Administrator Michelle Levi Perez. “Inclusion is a belief system, a philosophy, a frame of mind for all students, across all settings.”

“People are realizing that inclusion is not just a student placed in the classroom who is not part of the class,” Levi Perez said. “Inclusion is not integration, but true membership.”

Kayla said she hopes the ANP Buddies group will continue to grow at her school. “Ideally, we want more students, for it to last longer than 30 minutes, and more times a week,” she said.

As for the rest of those participating in the ANP Buddies group, all say they hope to come back again. After all, how often do you get to play games with your classmates in the middle of the day?

arrow icon Visit the Inclusive Education section of SSD's website for information about best practices in inclusive education and resources that families can use to educate themselves and support their teams as they design programming.

arrow icon SSD's Family and Community Resource Center also offers books and materials about inclusive education and ability awareness. Click here for lists.


Published November 2017

Students at Oakville High School participate in an inclusive activity.Students at Oakville High School participate in an inclusive activity.


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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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