Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) are continuing to advance an inclusive education initiative that began development in 2009.
At their Oct. 16 school board meeting, trustees were given a presentation on the Action on Inclusion initiative and its direction by Amber Hester, assistant superintendent of student services.
Action on Inclusion is a direction for education, set by the Alberta government to improve learning for students. Development started with best-practice research, focus groups and input from parents.
“We didn’t just randomly say, ‘We should do inclusion.’ There was research,” said Hester. “We had to say, ‘OK is that the right thing to do? What would the literature tell us? What would past practice tell us?’”
During development, focus groups where used to make suggestions and provide input on the project. “The focus groups, working with Alberta Education resulted in a document called Setting the Direction,” said Hester.
The Alberta government met with ministries to discuss setting the direction and developed an Inclusive Education Cross-Ministry Team, which signed an agreement to ensure a commitment to collaborate on supporting students.
Over the past year WCPS has worked with Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI), student service facilitators (SSFs) and administrators to create a common understanding of Action on Inclusion.
In WCPS and Alberta, an inclusive education means every student will be included in the greater school community. However, that doesn’t mean every student will be placed in a regular classroom.
Students will be placed in an environment deemed best for them by all parties and will ensure their success. Who those parties are depends on the student and their needs, but usually includes teachers, parents and SSFs, However, other groups, such as mental health professionals can be involved.
“Some of our students are very complex and need a lot of people around the table,” said Hester.
WCPS believes students should receive fair support. According to the presentation, that doesn’t mean every student will get the same support but will receive the support they need, based on individual needs.
Over the past year WCPS began to move from discussing inclusion and the initiative to putting in into action.
These actions include a pilot project over the next year with seven schools from the WCPS division: Rimbey Elementary School, Clive School, Lacombe Outreach, Wolf Creek Academy, Iron Ridge Junior High, and Bentley School.
“They are piloting a systemic way of supporting students that is grounded in collaboration and building capacity with teachers to meet the needs of all students,” explained Hester.
Over the next year the schools will work through a process meant to support both students and staff. “They’re helping refine and add to the documents that will be rolled out next year for all schools in Wolf Creek, she said.
However, it’s been recognized a teacher as an individual doesn’t have enough time, knowledge or skills to meet the needs of every student. Trustee Bob Huff expressed his concern for this at the meeting.
Huff believes there are already many demands placed on staff, such as Century 21 Goals implementation, the pyramids of intervention, extracurricular factors and volunteers.
He’s apprehensive about the time and demands it’ll take to implement Action on Inclusion into a classroom.
“They’ve got their lesson plans, they’ve got their marking, they’ve got their discipline, so where am I going with this? It’s great and wonderful stuff but I think of those people out there who’ve got 30 kids in the classroom, 35 kids in the classroom. They’ve been teaching for a long time or they’re just coming out and they’re learning how to teach,” said Huff. “How do we provide the staff with the tools to do all these things?”
However, Hester explained the pilot provides tools for teachers. Instead of simply asking schools to include Action on Inclusion in their programs the plan will support them to do so, said Hester.
“We’re just excited. There have been lots of changes with Alberta Education.” Hester feels the changes align with WCPS’s goals and Action on Inclusion is only refining what’s already being done in the education system.