Art as a School-Wide Inclusive Activity
During the seven years I worked with Special Olympics Project UNIFY to increase school-wide social inclusion, I was able to visit pre-K, elementary, middle and high schools to learn from students, faculty, staff, administrators, parents and community partners about their social inclusion experiences.
As you can imagine there were many common activities in these schools (e.g., inclusive youth leadership, school-wide activities and unified sports) as well as unique opportunities to ensure students with and without intellectual disabilities engaged together to integrate social inclusion.
One of my interests was to identify specific practices that could be adopted and/or adapted by schools throughout the US. I wanted to make sure I could share practices that would be appropriate for other schools given their schedules, curriculum, in-school and after-school programs, partnerships and leadership structures.
An example is that some of the high schools I visited incorporated students with intellectual disabilities in their student council; I shared their recruitment, selection and support strategies with other high schools acknowledging that each has a student council program. In addition we worked with the National Association of Student Councils to share specific strategies schools can implement as well as co-facilitate workshops for state programs and schools.
Let me offer another example of what one high school is doing that can be replicated in schools throughout the nation. At Eastside High School in Taylors, South Carolina among the many successful social inclusion practices they implement is an opportunity for students with intellectual disabilities to join with their general education student partners to paint ceiling tiles in classrooms and in the school hallways.
As we talked to the principal at Eastside High School he shared that the idea came from the school’s custodial staff upon observing the talents and gifts of the students in special education classes. You can imagine how much more colorful and exciting to walk through halls and be in classroom where the drab ceiling tiles are transformed into beautiful works of student art.
Think how each student’s art work is prominently presented throughout the school and looked upon by every student, teacher, staff, administrator and visitor to the school. This is such a simple idea leading to a school-wide celebration of art and student talents and contributions.
Remember, I sought school practices that can be adopted and/or adapted by schools throughout the nation, and certainly most schools have ceiling tiles that can be transformed into art to celebrate social inclusion throughout the school.
I encourage readers to consider this strategy as well as others to engage students with and without intellectual disabilities to discover and demonstrate their gifts and talents throughout their school. The result is positive for each student, improves the school’s climate and expands social inclusion throughout the school and community.