By Daniel Share-Strom, Community Living Ontario
(special to saultonline.com)
“For many years,” said Community Living Algoma’s Director of Community, Family and Children’s Services Heather Hicks, “one of our strategic goals has been about inclusion, and children being able to go to their neighbourhood schools with their neighbourhood friends.”
That dedication to inclusive education is what’s inspired the organization’s upcoming inclusive education conference, titled Creating Welcoming Communities: The Journey to Inclusion Begins at School. The event will take place on Wednesday, October 11th, and Thursday, October 12th at the Water Tower Inn in Sault Ste. Marie.
“The inclusion of kids in their early years,” Hicks explained, “helps to ensure that our communities are more inclusive as those children become the adults who then are friends, colleagues, and employers of people we support.”
Her organization connected with Dr. Gordon Porter, Director of Inclusive Education Canada, about advancing this goal in the community. He advised them that it would be helpful to gather a large number of people in one place and discuss related issues.
Porter is scheduled to speak on Wednesday evening. Titled Making our Schools Inclusive: Five Reasons to Act, Hicks explained that he’ll “lay the foundation on why inclusive education is necessary.”
Thursday morning will see keynotes from a2z Strategic Consulting CEO Stephanie Vucko and ARCH Disability Law Centre Staff Lawyer Luke Reid, respectively talking about the challenges and legal rationale for building inclusive schools in Ontario. That day will also play host to a series of breakout sessions, in four separate streams.
In the Legal stream, Reid will examine the Human Rights Code’s role in delivering inclusive education, the obligations of parents and teachers, and conflict resolution strategies.
Avon Maitland School Board Equity Lead Amy Kipfer’s session will focus on how the board has moved from segregated to inclusive education, including its coaching model for teachers in the Teaching stream.
Sophie Pitre-Boudreau, Vice Principal of École communautaire le Domaine in New Brunswick, will helm a French-language stream on Inclusion, and Vucko and Porter will collaborate on a Leadership and Inclusion session on school board strategies for support.
Each session will be made available in both the morning and afternoon, with the exception of the French stream, which will be offered in two parts.
After the sessions, Porter will host a roundtable discussion on moving toward inclusion in schools and offer closing remarks.
“School is where we start to learn about our community,” Hicks said. “I think we’ve, for many years, recognized that children get this stuff right. It’s the adults in the world that create systems and rules that often lead to fear about differences.”
“If we can start children feeling included and connected and accepting very, very early, we would hope that they would carry that through to their adult years and ultimately, effect change in our society.”
To register for the free event, email [email protected].