Making School Safe for Learning

by Carol Kocivar | November 19, 2016 | 0 Comments
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Harsh words. Smart Responses

We’ve all been there. And so have our kids. Someone says something really offensive:

  • "Retard!"
  • "Fatso!"
  • "So gay!"
  • "Go back to your own country!"

Hurtful words and hurtful thoughts. How do we help children understand that words can hurt? How can we help our schools become more inclusive?

This month, in addition to celebrating National Fritters Day, you can learn how to help improve your school during National Special Education Day and Inclusive Schools Week

A Little Background: Special Education Day

Dec. 2 celebrates the signing of the first federal special education law in 1975. It may seem hard to believe, but before this law very few children with disabilities went to public school. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) changed that. Today, more than 6.5 million children receive special education services in the US. In California, it is about 10 percent of students, some 680,000 children.

Odds are, you probably don’t know a lot about special education. It’s pretty darn complicated. In the spirit of Special Education Day, we’ve selected some guides to help you with the basics. (You’re welcome.)

Standing Up to Bullying

Bullying is especially hard on children with special needs. One study indicates that 60 per cent of students with disabilities report being bullied regularly compared to 25 per cent of all students. And yes, there there are things schools can do to help.

  • Look into creating a "Peer Advocacy" program at your school.
  • Share this Tip Sheet about how to address bullying of kids with special needs.
  • Work with your PTA or parent group to learn more about the special needs of students and how to reach out effectively to include all parents in decisions at your school.

Inclusive Schools Week is Dec. 5-9, 2016

This is one more chance to support students at your school. Think of it as the opportunity to help kids understand why "So Gay" and "Go Back to Your Own Country" are harmful to the entire school community. Here are ideas your school might want to adopt from Inclusive Schools:

  • Establish a "Five Minutes for Friendship" ritual each day. Have students pair up with classmates on a rotating basis. Provide a topic for the pair to discuss for five minutes. Ask a few pairs to share their conversation with the class.
  • Display student artwork and projects around the school. Projects might include "what makes me special" essays, name histories, or family trees.
  • Ask students to write about a time that they didn’t feel included in a group. Talk about how it made them feel. Ask them how their experiences relate to anyone who is perceived as different and what challenges they might face in a school setting.
  • Read and discuss poetry that focuses on creating and maintaining unity among different groups of people.

Facing History and Ourselves can help help older students understand racism, religious intolerance and prejudice by relating history to their own lives. December is the time to raise awareness. Put your plan into action throughout the school year. You can find lots more Celebration ideas here.

How does your school help children understand that words hurt? What are parents doing to make your school more inclusive? Let us know so we can share with all of our Ed100 readers.

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