Everyone included in S.F. classrooms 

click to enlarge Special education: SFUSD schools are blending special-education students into the general student population, creating learning experiences for everybody.
  • Special education: SFUSD schools are blending special-education students into the general student population, creating learning experiences for everybody.

A parent of one of our students shared with me that she chose her son's school because of the way it honors diversity on all levels. She said she didn't want her son to be the only "different" kid in his school. Nobody wants that for their child, whether or not they have special needs.

At the San Francisco Unified School District, we recognize that each child is unique and learns differently, and we know that good teachers create learning opportunities for every student in their classrooms. We recognize that no two humans are alike and diversity enriches the learning environment for our students.

Teachers from across the district are learning common approaches to reviewing the instructional and behavioral needs of students and creating safe and productive learning environments. Our educators are motivated by a high level of support that is coordinated and structured.

As school administrators, we've been talking a lot about inclusion, too. When referring to special-education services, inclusion means that children with all kinds of challenges are educated alongside their peers.

During a conversation with principals, Victor Tam defined inclusion this way: It means that all students get the opportunity to have an equitable and fair experience in their schools and classrooms, no matter what different challenges they might face. Tam said that for him, it's about accepting and embracing all people no matter their differences.

One elementary student I spoke with, Andre, said inclusion is a good experience because then you know how to work with people of different abilities.

"You can teach them something and they can teach you something," Andre said. "I had a friend in my class who taught me to be gentle with a lot of different kids with disabilities."

Andre also discussed how having a peer with challenges motivated him.

"Sometimes I feel like, 'Oh, I can't do this!'" Andre said. "But then I think, 'I wonder how my friend is feeling?' I feel like my struggle is nothing compared to his struggle so I should just keep on going."

There are positive effects from inclusion and it is a crucial part of educating our students to be successful in the world outside of school. Inclusion is not only a civil right for students with disabilities; it is an opportunity.

Richard A. Carranza is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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