Group of diverse learners gathered together for a photo with smiling faces 28June2023 - Superintendent Newsletter - McMillan

Ready for Middle School! Why Inclusion Matters

June 29, 2023

Jayde and Skyla are twins in grade 5 who started school at McMillan in Kindergarten. The girls have a designation, due to cerebral palsy, and are confined to wheelchairs. They were nonverbal when they started school, and their learning and growth over the past six years has been remarkable to watch. Even more inspiring, though, has been watching them grow in their relationships with their peers.  I sat down with Jayde, Skyla and several of their friends to talk about their learning journeys as they get ready to move on to middle school. I have often marveled at the power of the relationships that have developed and I wondered if these students understood just how positive the impact of their shared learning has been.

Me: Tell me about your experiences at McMillan. Do you remember meeting each other in kindergarten?

Amara: I remember in kindergarten Jayde and Skyla couldn’t talk to us. Ms. V taught us that when she sticks out her tongue, that means “no”, so we had to only ask yes or no questions when we talked to them.

Seher (laughing): And now we know to say “I don’t know what that means!” because now they can talk!

All the students laughed together, as they remembered some of their time in kindergarten, which was then followed by remembering who was in which class as they grew up. Some friendly competition was evident as they compared how many times they had been with Jayde, and how many times with Skyla.

Me: And I love how you all know to wait now and give time for their words to come. You have learned a skill of listening that not all people have.

Brooklynn: Yes, now we just talk to them like we talk to any friend.

Asha: I do like to get their opinions.

Me: Jayde and Skyla, what do you like to talk about with your friends?

Skyla: Everything!

Jayde: I don’t know

Amara (without hesitating): I know what Jayde likes to talk about….Playdates!

This comment caused Jayde to break out in the biggest smile, as everyone laughed at the shared joke. I asked who had been on playdates with Jayde or Skyla and 6 of the 8 students responded yes. There was more joking about the power that Jayde and Skyla had, choosing who would be the next playdate, and the students shared that at school it was necessary to have a turn taking chart in their classrooms, so that everyone who wanted a turn to work with the girls could have one.

Brooklynn: I love having them in our class.

Me: What are the things you have enjoyed most about going to school together?

Kiratvir: I love giving them ideas and playing games with them. It makes me feel good to help them.

Brooklynn: I love reading with them and working on Social Studies projects.

Asha: I love just hanging out with them. It’s a nice feeling to see things from their perspective.

Nicole: I felt differently before I spent time with them. I have learned things. I can’t even describe it.

Asha: I have learned to be thoughtful about where I am, so Jayde can see me, but also to be careful of the back of her wheelchair. There’s lots of equipment back there that I wouldn’t want to bump.

Me: You might not know this, but it wasn’t always the case that all students learned together in classrooms. There was a time when students with different abilities were placed in classrooms apart from typical kids. Do you think it’s important to include students with different abilities in a classroom?

Manreet: It would be cruel not to!

Amara: I don’t like it when some people say “disability”. I like “different ability” because we all have our own abilities.

Asha: I believe humans learn from their surroundings. We all deserve to be in a learning environment that has all different abilities, so that we can all learn as much as we can.

Me: So are you all ready for middle school?

Kiratvir: I asked Jayde if she was worried about middle school. She told me she is worried about making friends.

Me: I think all of you have that worry, don’t you? But you all have each other. Can Jayde and Skyla count on you all for help in that area? Can you all count on each other?

All: Yes! Of course!

Jayde and Skyla’s EAs have shared with me that although they are not moving on to middle school with the girls, they have no worries, knowing that this tight group of caring students will be there to support each other. The power of inclusion means these students have a bond that benefits them all. Jayde and Skyla will get the educational support they need from new EAs and teachers, but they have the emotional support, and the opportunity to learn and grow socially, from their peers. Peers who are also learning and growing in the best of ways as a result of their shared learning journeys in inclusive classrooms.

McMillan Elementary