Every Child Belongs: Cultivating a Community of Inclusion
by Jenny Williams, SCSBC Director of Educational Support Services ◊
Do we really understand what God does through disability and how we are blessed through it?
Including Isaac is an inspirational video that shows how positive an impact a student living with disabilities can have on others in his school1. Isaac, a student at Byron Centre Christian School in Michigan, has severe disabilities caused by spinal muscular atrophy. This debilitating and deteriorating condition confines him to a bed. It is inspiring to see the passion with which the school has facilitated Isaac’s inclusion and how the school’s attitude has allowed Isaac to live an integrated life as a valued member of the school community.
Research shows that children with disabilities benefit from school inclusion programs; moreover, other students in the school are able to learn crucial life skills, unselfishness, empathy, and respect based on the sanctity of life.
All of us are fearfully and wonderfully made,2 with special, God-given gifts to share. Matthew 22:36-40 speaks to the special place Jesus has in his heart for children, teaching us that in God’s kingdom, each child is valued, gifted, and deserving of grace. Seen through the lens of a fallen creation, every human being is disabled. Not all disabilities are visible in a physical sense, but each of us carry the disability of our sinful nature. We have all been saved by Christ’s redemptive work and have been included in the body of Christ. Isaac has had a life changing impact on the students and staff at Byron Center Christian School, and this beautifully captures God’s plan for an inclusive kingdom.
Including students with developmental disabilities in regular classrooms is a tremendous benefit for the entire school community:
Students with disabilities achieve more when they are part of inclusive learning environment and are far more likely to realize economic and other successes when they leave the school system. These successes include a higher income potential, increased community involvement, better social connections, and a greater quality of life3.
God works in the hearts of non-disabled children as they see others model love for people with disabilities. Whole classes gain greater understanding and appreciation for each other and those with disabilities. There is less stereotyping of disabilities and more acceptance of each individual’s specific strengths and needs4. Children who grow up in schools where all students are valued and seen as equal members will learn to respect and advocate for diversity in the larger community.
Children who grow up in schools where all students are valued and seen as equal members in a caring school community also gain more sophisticated social and interpersonal skills and empathy for others5. Nondisabled children become more aware of the needs of others and become skilled at understanding and reacting to the behaviours of their friends with disabilities6. Students who have developed relationships with disabled classmates report that they have increased patience with “slower” learners7. It is extremely beneficial to provide children with the opportunity of serving one another and helping meet the needs of others. Teaching children and youth how to respect and care for each other instills in them the belief that we can all contribute – each and every one of us.
Serving disabled students provides an opportunity for students to take on leadership roles where they may not have otherwise acquired them. When disabled students are incorporated into the classroom, non-disabled students grow in ethical and moral commitment and become advocates for disabled friends8. Students also grow in maturity, self-confidence, and self-esteem9. These factors combine to form selfless leaders who love others the way Christ loves each and every one of us.
God reveals amazing things about himself through disabilities. We are reminded how weak we are, how dependant on Him, and how much we need to turn to God, our source of strength. We learn to be more grateful, resilient, prayerful, and see God at work every day, as well as how to be content in every situation.
All students do better academically as a result of inclusion-based teaching practices. Teaching strategies and materials that respond to the special needs of a specific student or group of students is beneficial for all students. The extra time necessary to assist all children learn actually encourages all students to work harder. Students in inclusive classrooms consistently do better academically than those in non-inclusive classrooms10. Helping someone else teaches a child things not generally taught in the classroom. Many students have reported that for the first time, they had a real reason to thoroughly learn the material they were studying in the classroom and, as a result, got better grades.
Our Western culture idolizes the individual: the strong, the athletic, the smart, the independent. Inclusion challenges the idols in our society. Instead of seeing disabilities as an inconvenience, we should be teaching our students how each and every person has something to contribute and is a blessing. The more interdependence we cultivate, the stronger our communities, and the communities of future generations to come; the stronger we represent God’s kingdom on earth.
- How are you striving to mirror the body of Christ in your school?
- How are you developing students for Christian service standing firmly on Scripture that shows each one is gifted and each one is important within the body of Christ?
- How does your school value differentiated teaching practices as being beneficial to all students?
1 Psalm 139
2 Bradley Productions. (2013, August). Including Isaac.
3 Crawford, C. (2001, February). Continuous and Inclusive Education: Economic and Legislative Implications Drawn from the Canadian Experience. Paper presented at the North-South Dialogue on Inclusive Education. Mumbia, India: Roeher Institute
4 Siegel-Causey, E., McMorris, C., McGowen, S., & Sands-Buss, S. (1998). In junior high you take earth science: Including a students with severe disabilities into an academic class. Teaching Exceptional Children, 31(1), 66-72.
5 Katz, J., & Mirenda, P. (2002). Including students with developmental disabilities in general education classrooms: Educational Benefits. International Journal of Special Education, 17, 14-35. “Mainstreaming in Classrooms.” 1 Dec. 2001. http://kidshealth.org/kid/grow/mainstreaming.html
6 Staub, D (2005). Inclusion and the other kids: Here’s What Research Shows so Far About Inclusion’s Effect on Nondisabled Students. National Institute for Urban School Improvement. http://www.urbanschools.org/pdf/OP_Kids.pdf
7 Noddings, N. (1991). Stories in dialogue: Caring and interpersonal reasoning. In C. Witherell & N. Noddings (Eds.,), Stories lives tell: Narrative and dialogue in education (pp. 157-170). New York: Teachers College Press
8 Staub, D (2005).
9 Katz, J., & Mirenda, P. (2002). Including students with developmental disabilities in general education classrooms: Educational Benefits. International Journal of Special Education, 17, 14-35.
10 Sharpe 2001.
Schaps, E. & Solomon, D. (1990). Schools and classrooms as caring communities. Educational Leadership, 48 (3), 38-42.