Westpark Middle School Grade 8 students Daksh Sethi, left, Avery Bettesworth and Nathan Randall play wheelchair basketball as part of Inclusive Schools Week this week. Robin Grant/Red Deer Express

Celebrating diversity with Inclusive Schools Week

Westpark Middle School teacher says inclusive schools benefit everyone

Grade 8 students at Westpark Middle School were trying their hand at wheelchair basketball Thursday afternoon as part of Inclusive Schools Week held at the school.

Leah Deschenes, a Grade 8 teacher at the school, said it is important to hold events like Inclusive Schools Week because all students benefit from a welcoming and inclusive environment.

“Research shows that no matter who you are in the class, being in an inclusive environment benefits everybody,” she said.

“That could be the student with special needs. It could be the mainstream students because relationships are built. It’s the awareness that it brings and it’s just a much more empathetic and welcoming environment when it’s an inclusive environment.”

Inclusive Schools Week is an internationally-recognized annual event created by the Education Development Center, a U.S-based organization that works to promote education, health and economic development worldwide, according to its website.

The event is held in schools during the first long week in December and, “Provides the opportunity for educators, students and parents to discuss how to successfully educate all children,” the website reads.

The Westpark Middle School event was organized in partnership with Central Alberta Refugee Centre (C.A.R.E.).

Different activities are being held throughout the week.

On Monday, one of the school’s visually impaired students, Caden Johnson, gave a Braille demonstration, showed students how he learns and explained how his equipment, an augmentative and alternative communication device, works.

On Wednesday, a Pride Cafe was held.

On Thursday afternoon, students attended a ‘Best Buddies’ open house where mainstream students were paired up with students in the school’s Foundation and Pathways program, which helps those with severe to profound developmental delays who may also have physical, sensory or medical conditions.

Deschenes added, “It helps the students get to know one another and learn about each other.”

On Friday, a multicultural fair is planned.

During the Thursday wheelchair basketball sessions, students paired up using wheelchairs on loan from the Lending Cupboard and discovered what it was like to play basketball in a wheelchair.

“They get practice using the wheelchairs and in the last part of the class, they actually have a game of basketball,” she said.

As far as she knows, Deschenes said Westpark is the only Red Deer school holding Inclusive Schools Week. However, other schools celebrate diversity in other ways.

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