The Theme for the 2012 Inclusive Schools Week provides a more specific focus this year. Last year’s theme "From Awareness to Action" applied to all aspects of inclusive education from changing attitudes to changing staffing and scheduling practices. For our new theme, ISN has chosen to address a significant and continuing challenge in creating and sustaining inclusive schools: building authentic friendships for students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers.
Ask almost any parent of a child with disabilities and you will discover a concern for the number and characteristic of their son’s or daughter’s friends, school mates, and team mates. Observe in almost any classroom and discover that students with disabilities typically have fewer friends and interact with them in fewer settings – primarily the boundries of the school. Ask almost any teacher and discover that while social inclusion is of concern, we possess few practical skills and strategies to bridge this relationship gap.
It is well known that unless adults, teachers and parents do something purposeful, meaningful friendships for students with disabilities are more limited in number and depth. Children with disabilities are targets of bullying more often than their typical peers and this problem appears to grow worse as physical and verbal aggression in schools is being quantified and studied. Parents, students, and educators need support and skills to reverse this long-recognized exclusion from friendships and the social life of the school.
Throughout 2013, the Inclusive Schools Network will work to increase attention to this important civil and ethical right to be included fully and meaningfully in the classroom, in the school, and in shared events and sports. With our current attention on academic inclusion through access to the general education curriculum, quality instruction, core curriculum standards we must make certain that we view ‘inclusion’ in it’s broader sense as well. The wish and the right to belong is one that moves all of us on a personal level. The responsibility to expand our notion of inclusion beyond just ‘a seat in the classroom’ is our timely theme for Inclusive Schools Week, December 3-7, 2012. Until we establish social inclusion as a characteristic of every school’s culture and practice our work is not done!
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