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    Inclusion at the Pumpkin Patch

    Inclusion at the Pumpkin Patch

    Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I (Amanda) was with my family at the Coastal Black Pumpkin Patch in my hometown of Black Creek. It is a Broadway family Thanksgiving tradition to walk through the pumpkins and participate in fall festivities such as tractor rides, hay and corn mazes, and warming by a bonfire. After the two-hour drive, all of us females (six of us) and my little son lined up for the bathroom. Standing there, I watched my international student, who is on the autism spectrum, walk past all the females in the lineup and enter the bathroom. I was mildly amused and, as a Board-Certified Behaviour Analyst, very curious about her thought process. Lining up for the bathroom is an unspoken social norm, and as I studied the situation more, our lineup was not a lineup, but several clusters and the clusters of females were chatting with one another. When I asked my student why she did not stand in line, she said, “What line?” Yes, that was what I thought! She then went ahead to enjoy her time at the pumpkin patch. I was now thinking about clear expectations, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), the Accessibility Act, and the Reporting Order and what they all have in common – inclusion.

    It can be easy for us to respond to new ministry requirements and recommendations through the lens of compliance. When examined through this lens, the new Accessibility Act and reporting order are just two more hoops to jump through to keep a good standing with the government. It is possible, however, to take a different view. Could these initiatives be an invitation to every member of our school community to reflect more deeply on what it means to be learners who follow the way of Jesus?

    Our Saviour was notorious for drawing near to those on the fringes of society in the ancient Near Eastern world. Even as he made his cosmic mission clear, he came alongside individuals and invited them to join this mission. Through their encounters with Jesus, marginalized people were seen and heard in new ways. He challenged societal views about children by interacting directly with them. He stated unequivocally that disability is not a punishment for sin and reached out, literally, to touch those who were considered untouchable. But he went much further than this. His healing encounters with the disabled gave them agency and invited them to reveal God in ways that challenged onlookers. All who participated in these interactions went away with a deeper understanding of God’s love.1

    Inclusion in the school and classroom is a principle that fosters a supportive and enriching educational environment for all students. It goes beyond physical presence and includes the active involvement of students regardless of their backgrounds, abilities, or differences. Inclusive education recognizes students’ unique strengths and perspectives in the learning community. It promotes a sense of belonging, equity, and respect. As educators, we play a pivotal role in an inclusive classroom by implementing diverse teaching strategies for the flourishing of students with varied abilities.

    Universal Design for Learning is a framework within the tier 1 system of support, which helps us to provide all students with a path into the learning journey.2 One way to start with UDL is to make a class profile of the learners’ strengths and stretches, list the supports needed, and offer them to everyone. It can be challenging to offer support once a student starts struggling, and it is also exceedingly difficult to remember who needs what specific support and when based on student learning plans or IEPs. Many students are uncomfortable asking for help or lack the skills to do so. If students have not developed resilience, they will disengage once they start to struggle with a task. Helping those students to re-engage takes more effort than proactively planning for supports and offering those supports in the first place. Even more importantly, this approach helps students to build self-awareness and agency.

    The Accessibility Act in BC is another tool we can use to create a place of belonging for all members of the learning community. The act aims to identify and implement goals to reduce and eliminate barriers for those entering our school building. It looks at ensuring architectural accessibility, such as automatic door openers, but goes beyond this to look at removing barriers to learning and finding access points for all students at a tier 1 level. Building an Accessibility Plan is an excellent opportunity to get everyone involved and invested in finding ways to include those who are marginalized. This task has often been left to “special education” staff but should be owned by each member of the school community.

    The K-12 Student Reporting Policy highlights universal assessment practices and supports. Pages 11 to 17 of this reporting policy connect closely to the UDL framework and suggest ways to support all students through assessment and reporting. At the secondary level, this includes students on a Dogwod Diploma who need targeted supports and those on an Evergreen Certificate who need more individualized supports. The policy begins by stating the importance of “[b]eing transparent about learning intentions,” and “[s]etting goals and expectations and clearly communicating them.”3 This brings us back to the pumpkin patch and the international student who did not intend to be rude and cut in front of everyone because she did not see the lineup. Is it possible that letting her go ahead is not that big of a deal? If waiting in line is the goal and a big deal, then signals, cues, and expectations are essential supports which should be taught in advance. The new reporting policy invites us to provide both formative and summative assessment that supports the learning of each student.

    As Christian schools, we have worked hard to build inclusive learning environments and have put many resources into this pursuit. As we refine our practice, let’s imagine classrooms in which every student has a way into the day’s learning. Let’s imagine schools in which each community member owns their role in creating a welcoming place. And let’s imagine assessment that focuses on learning rather than grades and highlights the strengths and progress of each student. On our journeys toward Christ-like inclusion, here are some questions that can help us reflect on and deepen our practice:

    • Are students in my classroom offered multiple ways to learn and show what they have learned, or do they need to struggle before I provide support?
    • Are students and staff in our school invited regularly to play an explicit role in seeing and welcoming peers and colleagues who seem isolated or excluded?
    • Does my assessment and reporting highlight student strengths and needs in a way that leads to deeper learning?

    Amanda Broadway & Kristie Spyksma
    SCSBC Associate Directors of Learning

    1. Calli Micale & Evan Rosa, “How Disability Reframes Humanity: Three Bible Stories to See Disability as the Site of Divine Revelation” For the Life of the World (podcast). Episode 155, October 7, 2023
    2. “Universal Design for Learning (UDL)Guidelines,” Cast, 2023.
    3. “K-12 Student Reporting Policy: Communicating Student Learning Guidelines,” Ministry of Education, 2023.