Last Saturday I knocked on a door in Ward D and the woman who answered let me into her world. She had a heart-wrenching story about a child with a disability and how she felt the public education system failed him. The details of this story are not mine to share, but the story reminded me of the major role of a school board trustee: advocating for the rights and well being of students and their families.
The story I heard, and others like it, have me searching for what ‘inclusive education’ actually means. How do we create and sustain safe, inclusive learning environments for all students? Inclusion in the classroom is such a basic tenet of public education that it becomes easy to pay lip service without really thinking about how policy can affect the lives of students, their peers and their families.
If there’s one thing clear to me, based on the chats I’ve been having with parents of kids with disabilities, it is that inclusion is an evolving issue. It’s changing and growing at almost the same rate as the technology that allows for greater inclusivity. In times of rapid, dynamic change we turn to our community leaders to help guide the way forward. I know many dedicated staff members at Edmonton Public Schools are working to ensure students are included and I applaud their work. However, the issue of inclusivity is too important to just set the inclusive model in place and hope that it will grow and sustain children on its own. Trustees are needed, to be vigilant in their commitment to ensuring all students are being included and treated equally.
In order for inclusion to work it must include regular training for teachers, transitional support for students who are starting school or switching schools, as well as a coordinated team approach within the school and with the parents to find the best way for the child to learn. I’ve met a lot of educational assistants on the doorstep and know many personally, and I can attest to the fact that these assistants are key positions within our schools. I’ve heard many times in talking with parents and educators that more educational assistants are needed, that there should be standardized training for them. If elected, I look forward to exploring the staffing levels and training of educational assistants further.
There is a lot to explore, questions to ask. I look forward to learning more about inclusion from Edmonton Public administration and experts. But it’s the stories I’ve heard on doorsteps in recent months, like the one I heard last Saturday, that have inspired me to consider more deeply the advocacy role of the public school trustee. My thanks go to the parents who have bravely shared their personal stories with me, for trusting me. I’m going to keep knocking on doors and earning the trust of voters in Ward D so that I can begin the hard work of advocating for you and your family.