Last week, I had the awesome experience of participating in the filming of two SWIFT Knowledge Development Schools in California – Willard Middle School in Berkeley and the WISH K-6 Charter School in Los Angeles. Filmmaker DanHabib (creator of Including Samuel and Who Cares About Kelsey?) and I were welcomed into both schools and encouraged to freely roam, film, and interview teachers, students, administrators, parents, and community volunteers.
As a team, we were moved by the respect for diversity we encountered in every classroom, hallway, and in the school yard. I’m confident that the subtlety of this respect will be communicated through the SWIFT mini-films which will start to roll out in the spring of 2014. Observing students ofall abilities learning together, hearing different languages and accents, and seeing the diversity of cultural dress and every shade of skin color was a feast for our New England eyes and ears. Students worked alongside parents and community members as they tended school gardens—which wereconnected to cafeteria offerings and classroom-based cooking programs—as part of their typical school day routine. At Willard Middle School, in addition to overseeing the school community, Principal Debbie Dean was an engaged onlooker as a flock of chickens enjoyed plenty of student attention and the school band practiced rock music in the courtyard.
Both schools worked to ensure community involvement, natural proportions of students with and without disabilities, and special and general education co-teaching. These approaches, along with Multi-Tiered Systems of Support and Universal Design for Learning are a few of the SWIFT Domains and Features that will be captured and shared through these ongoing filming efforts.
In addition to the diversity existing in each of these schools, the quality of the teaching was outstanding. Differentiation was a natural component of every teacher’s repertoire. Paraprofessionals supported entire classrooms and related service providers consulted with all students in a class. Shawna Draxton, WISH School Principal, said, “We teach 100% of the students 100% of the time,” in response to a question regarding pull-out services. And at the end of every school day, WISH educational teams, including paraprofessionals, used Reflective Practice to identify what went well, what the challenges were, and what will be done differently the next day.
In schools where ALL really does mean ALL, parents and students said it best:
- Mark Davis is the single father of Trevor, a Willard student with autism. “Because of my son’s experience in school,” Davis told us, “he has taught me the importance of presuming competence. I now know not to set limits on what I believe he can accomplish in life.”
- Gregg Goldfarb, a father of two “typical” students said, “I would rather my children grow up to be good people than good learners, but WISH School is teaching them to be both.”
- Najat Houweidi, a single mother who immigrated to Berkeley from Lebanon talked about the inadequacy she feels navigating the educational system to meet the needs of her son, Ali Hamid Houweidi, following the recent passing of her husband. She described the relationship she has with the school as “family” because of the ever-present support and assistance she receives.
The diversity of the experience was reinforced by one middle school student representing the Gay Straight Alliance Club who said, “The freedom to be yourself makes it easier to learn.”
The hope of SWIFT is that all students and families are welcomed and respected for who they are—however they come—and supported to learn easily. Thanks to our Knowledge Development Schools for sharing their talents and teaching us along the way. We look forward to begin sharing their amazing work with all of you next spring.
– Mary Schuh
Dr. Mary Schuh has more than 25 years experience in inclusive schools and communities, family and consumer leadership , and educational systems change and has been with the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability since its inception in 1987. She directs The National Center on Inclusive Education (NCIE) at the Institute on Disability. The NCIE is a leader in the transformation of schools so that students of all abilities are successfully learning in their home schools within general education settings. Mary serves as a member of the National Leadership Consortium of The SWIFT Center. As a faculty member of the University of New Hampshire, Mary helps to prepare future teachers to welcome and engage families, and teach all students in typical school and general education environments.