With 2022 coming to a close, American Education Week invites us to take a closer look at our nation’s public schools. It’s an exciting week to celebrate public education and show our appreciation for those who make a difference in students’ lives every day. And this year, the week is centered around a theme that is very close to our hearts: Together for Safe, Just & Equitable Schools.
Given the theme this year, for American Education Week we’re not only considering the state of public education and those who make our schools special day in, day out; we’re considering the role that inclusive policies have in our educational system – and how we can increase their prominence.
American Education Week 2022
What is American Education Week?
American Education Week is the longest-running national education celebration in the country. It’s a time to celebrate the public school system and all those who participate in it, from teachers, to students, to administrators and beyond.
This year, American Education Week takes place November 13 – 19.
Throughout the week, the National Education Association (NEA) is focusing on different areas of our nation’s public education support system:
- Monday is Kick-Off Day
- Tuesday is Family Day
- Wednesday is Education Supports Professionals Day
- Thursday is Educator for a Day
- Friday is Substitute Educators Day
Recognizing the many faces of public education make it clear: education culture is being shaped everywhere that students gather, learn, and socialize: in hallways, playgrounds, libraries, cafeterias, after-school programs, and more. With the theme of this year’s celebration centered on ensuring equity in education, we’re asking ourselves:
What does inclusion in public schools really look like in 2022?
What Does An Inclusive School Look Like?
According to a report published by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the high school graduation rate for those with disabilities rose to 68.2% for the 2018–2019 school year. That’s up from 67.1% the year prior. This statistic is holding relatively steady as of 2021.
While there are disparities state by state, the last decade of data shows an increasing number of American students with disabilities gaining access to the resources that will allow them to graduate high school. Even in the post-pandemic public school landscape – where overall enrollment dropped by 3% – enrollment in special education services did not proportionately decrease. It did fall by a mere 1%, but that was also the first decrease in enrollment in the last 10 years.
But academic achievement is only one piece of the puzzle.
To ensure an inclusive public school education looks beyond academic achievement, teachers, staff, and administrators need to:
- Provide an environment that is flexible enough to meet the needs of all children.
- Understand the signs of learning disabilities and how to empower students academically.
- Provide a curriculum that is rich in diversity and opportunity.
- Include and support the network of people contributing to a child’s enrichment.
- Prioritize inclusion when planning lessons and activities.
- Cultivate a safe, caring environment that fosters collaboration and honesty among students, administrators, and educators.
- Proactively seek and apply feedback from students with disabilities and their care networks.
6 Practical Examples of How You Can Practice Inclusion In Your School
Achieving your inclusion goals starts with the simplest, most actionable steps.
We’ve gathered six ideas to spark inspiration and show you how you can start building inclusive strategies in your own schools – and how you can strengthen the existing inclusion strategies you already have in place:
- Step back and look into your hiring processes, policies and programs. Have you made an intentional effort to ensure you are hiring teachers and staff from diverse backgrounds? Are your policies, environments, and strategies designed to support everyone’s learning and developmental needs? Are you encouraging your teachers to use inclusive teaching methods? More importantly – do the educators in your school know how to use inclusive teaching methods in the first place? These are important questions to ask and take action upon if you want to build a culture of inclusion in your school.
- Provide quiet areas for youth who may need them. Every student needs a place where they can focus without distraction. Other than providing individual desks or tables where students can work, consider finding a seldom-used room in your school that can be turned into a quiet, sensory room where students can freely go if they need to calm down.
- Add ramps and elevators where needed. If you don’t have ramps or elevators in your buildings already, consider installing them as soon as possible. Ramps and elevators ensure access equity for all students in your school. Consider outdoor play spaces as well – take a walk around your playground and evaluate the access options available to your students. These improvements can be costly and you may need to seek approval, financial assistance, or government advocacy to enact them. However, they are undeniably worth the work for the generations of students who will benefit from more accessible environments.
- Make sure there are enough adaptive devices for every student who needs one. A seat lift allows a student in a wheelchair to easily be moved if needed; adaptive computer keyboards allow students with motor skill impairments to type out class assignments; and scribes can take lecture notes for students who are visually impaired. If you don’t have adaptive devices on hand already, it’s time to look into purchasing some. Is your district feeling a budget pinch? Be sure to seek assistance from nonprofits or to ask the suppliers themselves to sponsor devices. As budgets are tightening, know that there are organizations that support these purchases.
- Tone down your school or classroom interior color scheme. Colorful backdrops and bright lights can be distracting for students with ADHD, or those with anxiety or depression who may be sensitive to such stimuli. Instead, opt for calming tones, like blues and greens, that won’t distract from learning activities.
- Rethink your school materials and textbooks. Textbooks and other traditional school materials can be heavy and cumbersome for children who have physical disabilities, especially those who use wheelchairs. Consider providing digital versions of your textbooks that are easily accessible on mobile devices, as well as computers or tablets so that your student won’t miss out on class materials due to physical limitations.
Here’s the bottom line:
Teachers who successfully implement inclusive policies may find these policies easier to put into practice than they thought! The more we think of inclusion as a goal that can be achieved – rather than a lofty aspiration that might never be met – the better off our students will be.
How Can KIT Equip Educators With Inclusion Tools & Training?
With over 20 years of experience and a fantastic team of Inclusionistas working behind the scenes and on the front lines of inclusion – KIT provides early childhood education professionals and caregivers inclusion training and practical strategies to increase inclusion. KIT’s goal is to foster a culture of inclusion in classrooms, playgrounds, schools, and childcare centers nationwide.
We have engaged over 100,000 child & youth development professionals on the topic of creating more inclusive environments. By introducing inclusive policy changes and best practices, we help drive the national conversation around disability inclusion in childcare and education programs.
Our services and resources are designed to equip teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to build inclusive spaces where all children feel safe, valued, and included.
To start your organization’s journey towards inclusion, we recommend our 30-minute course, Including Children & Youth with Significant Developmental Disabilities where you can learn basic strategies to encourage children with a variety of abilities to find their place in your program.
The course uncovers easy-to-implement strategies that support children and youth with disabilities. By completing this course, participants can earn continuing education unit credits and will be given a KIT Certificate of Achievement
If you are looking for something more specific, explore our other inclusion solutions and resources below.
KIT Academy features our best-in-class inclusion training and behavior support resources with eModules, how-to videos, monthly webinars, hundreds of archived on-demand training sessions, and printable resources.
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|We’ve been advancing disability inclusion for 25 years! To celebrate, we’re making our hours of educational content available even more accessible than ever.
Shop now to find the right training for your disability inclusion needs.
|Offer ends November 30, 2022.|
From comprehensive onsite professional training to ongoing support, including on-demand online courses and webinars, KIT is your onsite, online, and ongoing resource for inclusive practices and solutions.
Our services are available individually, however, most organizations find the most benefit comes from customized, complete training packages.
Connect with our experienced coaches for consultation services that offer fresh ideas about how you can include children of all abilities in the group settings in which you operate. Purchase our Consultation Services as a standalone business service or combine it with our other relevant services into a Training & Support Package.
KIT works to help develop systematic changes that will encourage inclusion with regard to policy & professional development, training & technical assistance, research & evaluation, and extensive community engagement.
Visit our services page to explore the inclusion services our expert team offers. From speaking engagements, to monthly webinars, to coaching & consultation, KIT teaches education professionals and caregivers how to create inclusive environments where no child is excluded.