OSSE’s Division of Specialized Education Helps Take the District’s ISW to a New Level.
It’s 7:55 AM and Desiree Brown, the Division of Specialized Education’s Parent and Community Liaison, is already in her office prepping materials for the District’s 2012 Inclusive Schools Week Kick-Off. With this year’s celebration set to be the city’s most ambitious to date, the extra hours afford her a little reprieve before the day’s whirlwind of activity.
“When the District first started celebrating Inclusive Schools Week (ISW) in 2006, our goal was largely awareness raising. We wanted to make sure that people understood what inclusion was and provide them with resources to take action.” The week-long celebration, once characterized by a few parent sessions, film screenings, and discussions, has now grown to include a flurry of events between December 3rd and December 7th, highlighting the fact that “inclusion is more than a seat in a class.”
When reflecting on the national week, dedicated to empowering educators and families with the tools necessary to create inclusive classrooms, Brown notes that this year’s celebration is the District’s largest to date. First, this year’s planning committee brings together a star-studded cadre of government agencies, community based organizations, and non-profits. The Inclusive Schools Week (ISW) Planning Committee includes: Advocates for Justice and Education (AJE), DC Public Schools, Dutko Grayling, George Washington University, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, OSSE, the DC Public Charter School Board, SchoolTalk, DC, the State Advisory Panel on Special Education (SAP), the Arc of the District of Columbia, the DC Special Education Co-operative, and University Legal Services.
Second, in addition to its annual kick-off event, the ISW Committee is hosting spoken word events and inclusive practice trainings, all in an effort to ensure every District student receives a quality education.
“Inclusive Schools Week is directly tied to OSSE’s mission. We are trying to ensure that we provide quality supports to students and their families. And by providing training and resources to families as well as educators, I think we are able to accomplish our goal.”
While the District will still host film screenings and discussions with parents as in years past, Brown heralds new elements of this year’s celebration. “This year, we’ve actually created a branding campaign that will be able to last for a number of years. It captures what DC looks like – the students we serve. And we haven’t had that before.” Brown points to a stack of glossy one-pagers, save-the-date-cards, and registration forms developed for the week. “We wanted to be thoughtful and we wanted it to be something everyone could connect to.” The documents highlight and advertise the events occurring throughout the week.
For the first time ever, the District will also host an Inclusive Schools Capstone on February 4, 2013 at George Washington University’s Marvin Center. The one-day conference, aimed at discussing the District’s next steps for improving classroom inclusivity and highlighting the progress made toward supporting students challenged by disability, gender, poverty, cultural heritage and language, seeks to draw 300 parents and educators.
“People should not miss the fact that we are bringing together national and local speakers [at the Capstone]. We will be profiling national best practices as well as gems that exist in DC.” In addition to featuring Keynote Speaker Daniel Habib, the director of the nationally acclaimed documentary Including Samuel, the Capstone will also feature interactive workshops and an exhibit hall. “Whoever leaves our exhibit hall will leave with resources. They will leave with a vision that they will be able to implement when they get back to their localities. Participants will be able to talk to the exhibitors about best practices and learn the pieces that make inclusive education possible.”
In reflecting on the week and her role as a Special Education staffer, Brown smiles. “One piece that we want to stress is that special education is not a place. It is a system of services and supports that students receive in order to access a curriculum. It’s no different than wearing a pair of glasses. So if we start looking at special education as an asset, as a way to ensure that students get the curriculum, and not as a label for a child, then we start looking at inclusion in a better way.”