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Inclusion Matters for Everyone

The week of December 4th we celebrate Inclusive Schools Week, and it is particularly fitting that the US Departments of Education and Health and Human Services recently released a renewed commitment and urgency policy update that young children with disabilities should be included in high-quality early childhood education programs alongside peers without disabilities.  

In a nation that values equality, educational opportunities for one in six children with disabilities continue to be lacking. The Civil Rights movement of the 60’s was a precursor to legislation protecting the rights of children with disabilities to access public education. Unfortunately, even today many people assume that the best place for children with disabilities is in a special school or classroom, separated from their peers.

Many students with complex learning needs have been denied access to opportunities which foster academic success, based upon the erroneous assumption they could not benefit from traditional instruction. Students with disabilities continue to be educated isolated from their peers and communities.

However, experts and people with disabilities themselves are united in their beliefs that inclusive education offers the best outcomes for all students.   These experts believe that a disability should not diminish ones right to right to fully participate in society in meaningful ways and live a life without limits.  

For over twenty years, UCP Charter Schools has been creating opportunities for students with and without disabilities to learn and thrive together.  

The culture of inclusion starts in early childhood programs where children don’t see each other’s differences but just another friend to play with.   Isn’t it wonderful if you ask one of the kids what’s different about your friend (who happens to be visually impaired) and their lack of ability to see doesn’t even make the top ten of what’s different.   It’s a great  culture that is being created – led by our children who will grow into

high school leaders who will go out of their way to stop bullying or when they are future bosses, they will remember that the smartest kid in their 3rd grade class was the student in a wheelchair.  And won’t think twice when someone in a chair comes in an interview.  

Research shows that inclusion is beneficial both to children with and without disabilities.  For students with disabilities (SWD), this includes academic gains in literacy (reading and writing), math, and social studies — both in grades and on standardized tests as well as better communication skills, and improved social skills and more friendships.

Their peers without disabilities also make greater academic gains in reading and math when in inclusive classrooms.  Research also shows the presence of students with disabilities give their peers new types of learning opportunities with their teachers providing instruction in a wider range of learning modalities (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic), which benefits their students without disabilities as well. Studies show they have a more positive perception of children with disabilities and differences and better social skills, such as communication and cooperation, and fewer problem behaviors as a result of peer-mediated interventions in inclusive settings.  

These students in inclusive classrooms also demonstrate greater compassion and empathy and treat everyone with respect and kindness and isn’t that the type of children we all want our kids to be?

Article Published on the Orlando Sentinel

Author: Dr. Ilene E. Wilkins is the CEO of UCP of Central Florida/UCP Charter Schools

Publication Date: 12/06/2023

Source: Orlando Sentinel

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