As a special education teacher who teaches in a primarily inclusive setting, I have had the pleasure of seeing inclusion in its many forms. I have seen students embrace various forms of diversity, acknowledging and celebrating many types of differences. Children are remarkable in that they are naturally curious, not judgmental, about human differences. They also have a deep level of compassion and empathy that, when fostered, can help them grow into incredible leaders.
On the day before the most recent holiday break, students in English class wrote poems about winter or the holidays. Many students chose to write about Santa or Rudolf, but the option remained for any student to write about a different holiday, or no holiday at all. The season of winter is experienced by us all– especially in my city, Chicago. Though teachers had been intentionally secular in designing their activities for the day, there were many students who had come to school with Christmas presents for others, donning Santa gift bags and candy canes.
One student, who is Jewish and celebrates Hanukkah with his family, was distraught because of the emphasis on Christmas he had been feeling all day. This student, whom I will call Josh, refused to work on the poem, putting his head down on his desk and rejecting all attempts at conversation. Josh felt excluded, so he isolated himself further and further from teachers and his classmates. Eventually, a teacher with whom he has a strong relationship came up to the classroom and pulled him out to the hallway to talk.
At the end of the class period, Josh was still out in the hallway with Mr. Hays, and another student Ana Maria said, “Ms. Hopkins, where did Josh go?” I said, “I think he’s talking to Mr. Hays in the hallway still. Why, what’s up?”
Her response made me stop in my tracks. “I wrote a poem about Hanukkah to give to him,” and when I told her how kind that was of her, she responded, “I just wanted to do something to help him feel proud of who he is.”
Even though neither Ana Maria nor Josh has a disability, they exemplified inclusion that day. Ana Maria’s inclusive mindset helped Josh feel welcome, accepted, even celebrated. The more we encourage our children to appreciate others’ differences, the more we build a tolerant and united community.
–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.