The term “inclusion” means many things to many people in many different environments, but at Onamia Elementary and High School, the meaning is clear: Inclusion means educating all students in the least restrictive environment possible. In other words, everyone learns together.
The inclusion model of education means kids with special needs spend as much of their day as possible with students without special needs. The extra support they need is provided in the classroom, instead of the old model of pulling students out of the regular classroom for additional help.
Interim Superintendent J.J. Vold is passionate about inclusion, and it has become one of his main initiatives for the district this year.
"As I reflect upon all my years in education, the Inclusive Educational model has been the most powerful initiative and training that I have ever been part of,” said Vold. “All students learn from each other, and all students gain more academically and socially by having access to the highest quality instruction together in every area, with any necessary modifications and supports built within the classrooms.”
Inclusion is similar to the old model of “mainstreaming,” with one crucial difference: The mainstreaming model requires that learners must “earn” their place in the regular classroom; the inclusion model says all students have a right to learn with their peers.
Darlene Bell heads the Inclusion Committee at Onamia. She is under contract with the district and is sharing her expertise in inclusion with the full-time staff. Alicia Laughery, a member of the committee, said, “We are working to enhance our understanding of least-restrictive environments and special education needs. These are things we’ve been working on for many years, but the Inclusion Committee helps to keep us focused.”
The Inclusion Committee helps with the development of “individual education plans” or IEPs for special education and students with special needs. Each student’s IEP is created by parents, classroom teachers, special ed teachers and administrators. This year, inclusion is at the forefront as those plans are developed.
“There’s been more of a push to keep kids in the classroom for many years,” said Laughery. “But inclusion takes it to the next level, making sure we’re accommodating all students’ needs, and making sure teachers understand those needs to ensure that students are learning in the best way possible.”
Interim Superintendent Vold expressed his appreciation for the staff participating in the Inclusion Committee. “When Inclusive Education is phased in correctly from kindergarten through high school, it is so powerful for all students and staff,” he said. “This is exciting work, and the staff are doing an amazing job with this initiative."