SUNDAY, 14 OCTOBER 2012
by Caroline Zentner Lethbridge herald
Inclusive education was a reality for Edmonton’s Nathan Devlin throughout his education and for the past four years he’s been inspiring others with his story.
Renee Laporte, inclusion facilitator with INspired Youth Inclusion Initiative, is Nathan’s assistant and she’s been with him since kindergarten. She continues to assist him as a student at Grant MacEwan University. When others suggested that their story needed to be shared with a wider audience INspired was formed. Based in Edmonton, INspired is a group of youth with and without disabilities, each of whom bring a different perspective on inclusion.
The Chinook Autism Society invited INspired to come to Lethbridge and deliver presentations at two schools in the Holy Spirit Catholic school division, a professional development seminar to teachers, educational assistants and community support groups and to share their story.
“They have very inspiring stories to tell of their journey through the K to 12 system and now they’re into university, still living fully inclusive,” Laporte said.
A handful of INspired members have been Nathan’s friends since Grade 1.
“We’ve been able to create authentic friendships that every student should experience in school and it’s because of inclusion,” Laporte said. “Nathan was the first student with severe needs that required full-time support. The culture of inclusion was there but it was still fresh. We were kind of trailblazing for some of it.”
One of those trails was having peers support Nathan in the classroom. Nathan, who uses a wheelchair, requires support to eat, he needs adaptations and modifications to complete his classroom work, and he needs support with his personal care.
“He’s non-verbal so he needs special equipment to be able to speak and so our trailblazing would have mostly been that his friends and peers were doing most of the adapting and modifying and working of his equipment. I tried to stay back a little bit and give them the opportunity to bond and to be comfortable with his disabilities,” Laporte said. “The whole classroom climate was inclusive because the peers were allowed to naturally gravitate and naturally caregive the way friends want to.”
By sharing their story they hope to inspire those in the school community and to give parents hope that their child will live an inclusive life.
“It can be done. The greatest barrier is still the fear. From what I notice, there’s a fear of doing it wrong,” she said.
“Presentations like this should be mandatory for staff who are working with inclusive classrooms.”
Alberta Education has its Action on Inclusion initiative which is now in the implementation phase. Laporte said implementation is critical and must be done correctly to set the foundation for the following steps.
“Alberta has many schools that are doing it right. I think what we need to do is tap into the successful stories and share those and give a visual example of how to make it work. Alberta can be the leader in inclusive education in Canada but it’s a big work in progress,” she said.