National Inclusive Education Month 2016 – Commentary #3
By Kimberley Gavan
Now in its 7th year, Re:Action4Inclusion has steadily built momentum as youth from across Ontario, with and without disabilities, continue to join the youth driven movement. Youth are working alongside their education and community allies. They continue to be committed to ensuring students who have an intellectual disability experience a sense belonging. They believe everyone is and should be seen as a valued and contributing member in their schools and communities.
The Ontario Trillium Foundation provided new funding support for the initiative last year. This has increased the opportunities to support this movement.
- Continuing the highly anticipated annual conference;
- Providing an opportunity for local youth groups to create community change projects at their schools;
- Providing resources to develop process tools and opportunities for engagement; so young people can to have honest conversations on how to challenge the barriers that hinder full inclusion for youth who have an intellectual disability.
Re:Action4Inclusion is creating spaces to support youth to have discussions which deepen their understanding of what inclusion requires from all of us and what young people who have a disability are experiencing.
In November 2015 the annual conference of Re:Action4Inclusion was attended by 117 youth, educators and community partners. They represented 15 school boards and 40 secondary schools from across Ontario. The participants were excited and energized by their experiences at this empowering weekend retreat.
The energy charged weekend featured dynamic and engaging guest speakers Noman Kunc, Blake Fly and Nick Foley and a number of the Re:Action4Inclusion alumni. The annual conference serves as the catalyst to further ignite the fire in new young leaders to join the inclusion movement. Youth are encouraged to lead the charge with support from their teachers to ensure students who have an intellectual disability are able to actively and authentically participate in the ‘typical’ high school experience.
“An amazing event that has inspired me, motivated me, changed my perspective and my life” – Ashlyn Fairbanks a conference participant shared her first experience at the conference.
These feelings were shared by a number of youth who eagerly returned to their schools interested in working with their teachers and community partners to put what they learned into practice and make their schools a place where everyone feels they belong.
Re:Action4Inclusion works to support this eagerness and channel this passion into supporting youth to host Community Change Projects.
The Community Change Projects provide funds for high school students and their teacher-allies to shift the culture of their school to inclusion. These projects allow youth to identify the change they want to see in their school and to develop the means to make that change happen.
Since the Community Change Projects have started across Ontario, 1370 youth, educators and community members have been engaged in project activities.
These young leaders: hosted events, developed new friendships, designed murals, created videos and changed their student council engagement process; they worked to ensure that students who have an intellectual disability would be engaged as members, now and in the future.
Another round of Community Change Projects will be launched in January.
Re:Action4Inclusion began in 2009 and focused on challenging high school students to play a leadership role to ensure schools across Ontario were inclusive. Working with their teachers and community allies is a critical element of the plan.
The call to action has been answered and the participants have gone on to continue their mentorship as young adults. The program ensures that with each year more and more youth are aware of what is at stake in making their high schools inclusive. They experience first-hand the significant role they can play as individuals and collectively. This has been pivotal in the movement continuing to grow.
The final word to Becky Alves, a young woman who has been involved since Grade 10 and will be graduating from University this year. Becky plans to become a teacher and continue as a Re:Action4Incllusion Ambassador.
“Inclusion is something I’ve always believed in but never really actually really advocated for it or taught people about it; I just got kind of knew what my beliefs were and tried to apply them in my life. Re:Action4Inclusion really got me involved in teaching others and inspiring others to create change to make a difference” – Becky Alves
Kimberley Gavan is the Director of Community Development for Community Living Ontario. She has extensive experience in developing new programs and initiatives to support people with disabilities. Re:Action4Inclusion is one of those projects. Kimberley’s commitment to building partnerships with others is one of her priorities.