This blog post was written by Dr. Gordon Porter, Director of IEC.
Last week I was in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to participate in a conference on inclusive education titled, Creating Welcoming Communities: The Journey to Inclusion Begins at School. It was sponsored by Community Living Algoma (CLA) in partnership with Inclusive Education Canada. CLA has identified inclusive schooling as a vital component for preparing the young people they support for the transition to life in the community. Individuals who have been included in school, transition to the community much more successfully, say CLA leaders. Participating with peers in the classrooms of the neighbourhood school can play a big part in achieving that success.
The social networks you have can have a major impact on where you live, where you work, and all the other things that go into a rich and engaging life.
Community Living Algoma is wisely focused on moving down the path of inclusion in schools by working closely with local school authorities. They welcomed teachers and school leaders to join with parents, family members and agency staff to be part of the conference. They recognized local inclusion champions and were clear that while there is work to do on inclusive education, local schools and teachers do have a solid base of practice that can be strengthened and enhanced.
The conference program featured a number of speakers with extensive experience with inclusive education from Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. The opening night saw John Policicchio, CLA Executive Director, set the mandate for the conference and the objectives set by the association. Speakers included Stephanie Vucko, an education leader from the Montreal area; Luke Reid, a staff lawyer at ARCH Disability Law Centre; Amy Kipfer, an inclusive education specialist with the Avon Maitland District School Board in Ontario; and Sophie Pitre-Boudreau, an administrator from a Francophone school in North-Est New Brunswick and a former provincial inclusion coordinator with the NB Ministry of Education. Sophie arrived in Sault Ste. Marie a day early and visited the two Francophone schools in the city.
One of the things I took note of was the leadership role of a number of former teachers on the CLA board. These individuals have chosen to volunteer their time to work for the association and their connections to local schools is a plus in establishing a positive and productive relationship with school authorities.
Making schools inclusive is hard work. It takes a great deal of effort by stakeholders to transform the way schools work to build a culture of inclusion and collaboration sufficient to the task.
The day after the conference CLA hosted a breakfast meeting with senior administrators from the public and Catholic school boards in Sault Ste. Marie. Inclusive Education Canada and Community Living Algoma agreed to work with local school leaders as they follow up on the conference.
CLA President Lucille Norman, Executive Director John Policicchio, and Director of Community, Family and Children’s Services Heather Hicks, are leading the way in their community and are helping us build a stronger inclusive Canada.