Ontario Award winners focus on what’s working to promote inclusive education
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 — Camille Jensen
By changing their strategy to focus on the positive steps being made towards inclusive education, the Brockville and District Association for Community Involvement (BDACI) was able to help transform a high school not known for accepting students who have a disability into a successful example and advocate for inclusion.
For these efforts and others, BDACI was named the Ontario recipient of the Canadian Association for Community Living’s (CACL) Inclusive Education Award.
Beth French, BDACI’s executive director, says they are pleased to be recognized and that the acknowledgment offers both encouragement to staff members and enhanced credibility as the association continues their work towards promoting inclusive education. She credits BDACI’s president, Nancy McNamara for her involvement and continued efforts towards inclusion.
While the accolades are a nice pat on the back, French says she wants the award to highlight the larger subject of how best to promote inclusive education.
“It’s very nice for us to be recognized but I think what’s most important is that there be recognition of the issues with respect to inclusion of kids who have an intellectual disability in the school system,” says French.
According to French, their association experienced real progress towards that goal after deciding to change their approach. She says for many years the association was supporting families in their efforts to have their child included in the classroom and found the process “quite discouraging,” noting they made little progress.
“We decided that what we really needed to do was to switch that around a bit and highlight a positive accomplishment and that was when we started to think about the partnership we had with the Upper Canada District school board,” recalls French.
Already having good relations with the school board, BDACI focused their attention on the Brockville Collegiate Institute (BCI), which had the reputation as a highly academic school and not welcoming of students who have a disability.
BDACI joined the school’s accessibility committee and worked extensively with the principal, Dave Coombs, who agreed to meet with BDACI families and staff.
“BDACI found ways to teach BCI staff about the high degree of curriculum modification and innovative accommodation needed by students with developmental disabilities. BCI learned to connect this with its board’s efforts for differentiated instruction, character development and school improvement,” said Marilyn Dolmage, inclusive education consultant, in a letter nominating BDACI for the award.
The efforts of BDCAI and the high school also caught the attention of the Ministry of Education, which funded a research project to learn how the high school was able to develop and sustain motivation and strategies for effective inclusion of students who have a disability.
According to Doug Cooper, co-chair of the awards committee and member of Community Living Ontario’s board of directors, BDACI deserves to be recognized for taking a leadership role in proving that inclusions does work in schools.
“I think just the efforts that they put in towards working with the school board and in particular the one collegiate which really didn’t have students who have a developmental disability in their school. . . . other school boards will take that example as well.”
The CACL Inclusive Education Awards highlight National Inclusive Education Week, which runs from Feb. 15-22, by drawing attention to the positive examples of inclusive classrooms and schools across the country. The award recognizes an individual or team who has made contributions to inclusive education in their province or territory.