NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- The reasons for Catholic schools to offer
inclusion of students with intellectual and development disabilities are
overwhelming, according to Beth Foraker, founder and director of the
National Catholic Board of Full Inclusion.
They include the research showing the benefits of
inclusion and the negatives of segregation of such students, she said.
is no reason to not do it," Foraker said. "It's really a mindset to
She made the comments during the first Inclusive Catholic High School
Conference, held Oct. 23-24 in Nashville. The event brought together
representatives from 12 Catholic high schools that have a full inclusion
program and 12 that are considering starting one.
12 high schools with inclusion programs are visionary, but they're operating in
seclusion," Foraker said. "I wanted them to get together to share
what they're doing and affirm what they're doing."
conference's 50 participants, who came from Catholic schools in 10 states, visited Vanderbilt University Kennedy Center and
its Next Steps program for students with intellectual and developmental
disabilities. They also went to St. Ann School, which this year started a full inclusion program
for children in elementary school, and to Pope John Paul II High School, which has
been serving students with intellectual and developmental disabilities for 13
years through its Hand in Hand program.
headmaster of Pope John Paul II High School, invited Foraker to hold the
conference in Nashville.
She agreed because
it is one of only four cities that offer full inclusion programs at every level
of schooling from preschool through college. The others are Fairfax, Virginia;
Charleston, South Carolina; and Providence, Rhode Island.
She said more
Catholic schools are offering full inclusion programs.
California-based National Catholic Board of Full Inclusion helps
families who have children with developmental disabilities in asking
schools to serve their children and it also provides help for schools
agree to do this.
The group offers
free mentors to help schools and dioceses through the process of staring a full
McDowell, principal of Quincy Notre Dame High School in Quincy, Illinois,
attended the conference because his school is considering offering a full
with Chris Reffet, a teacher at Blessed Sacrament School in Quincy, one of the
feeder schools for Quincy Notre Dame. Reffet has two children with Down
Sacrament has welcomed them and included them," McDowell said. "This
has given us food for thought about what those opportunities will look like
down the road" when Reffet's children are ready for high school, he added.
inclusion fits Catholic schools' mission, McDowell said. "The more we can
bring people in, the better. That aligns with who we're called to be."
how they feel at Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia, which
started offering full inclusion services three years ago.
are a Catholic school and the Catholic identity of the school is important,"
said Carl Patton, the assistant head of school at Bishop O'Connell. "We
want to make sure we're serving as many Catholic families as possible."
all God's children," said Erin O'Malley, dean of student services at
Bishop O'Connell. "We want to provide families with opportunities so all
children with intellectual and cognitive disabilities are not excluded from the
Catholic school experience."
O'Malley said the full inclusion services have been good for the entire school.
The school has 148 peer mentors, who help the students with intellectual and
developmental disabilities, O'Malley said. "They all want to be part of
helps improve the quality of teaching in the school, Patton said. "It
makes teachers better," he said. "They have to see and address the
specific needs of every student," which carries over to all their students,
conference, Foraker presented Deely with the organization's Dandy Award in
recognition of his leadership and support of full inclusion programs. The award
is named after the dandelion, a symbol of the organization's efforts to spread
the message about the benefits of full inclusion, so it can take root in
Catholic schools across the country.
- - -
More information about the National Catholic Board of Full Inclusion is
available at http://fullinclusionforcatholicschools.org.