Teresa Griffin and Mary Byrne from the National Council on Special Education in Dublin, Ireland travelled all the way from the Emerald Isle to visit three ASD-W schools as part of an international study tour on inclusion.
They are visiting George Street Middle School, Garden Creek Elementary School and Nashwaaksis Middle School from Nov. 26-28 to observe inclusion in action and learn about how the province's delivers education in a fully integrated classroom.
"What I loved was the full openness of the school, the engagement and how the amount of work done by everyone seems effortless when it really must be immense," Teresa Griffin said after visiting George Street Middle School in Fredericton.
"I really wanted to see how inclusion works on the ground," added Mary Byrne, a former teacher. "I saw all children taking part from those who need support to those who can be stretched in their learning. It is really amazing. You have so much space and so much diversity."
In Ireland, two per cent of students have disabilities or learning challenges with one per cent attending mainstream schools and one per cent attending specialized schools. Griffin and Byrne are preparing a report about how all students are learning together in an inclusionary school environment in New Brunswick.
The two Irish educators heard about the importance of having the proper resources and classroom supports in place for diverse learners within the school system as well as support and core training for teachers and administrators. Administrators, classroom teachers, resource teachers, guidance counsellors, support resources, and educational assistants must all work together to deliver education as students present with more diverse or complex needs.
At George Street Middle School, Griffin and Byrne experienced inclusion from a couple of new perspectives including First Nations students sharing their Indigenous heritage and different cultures from around the world coming together in one room called the Global Minds club where students experience cultural diversity while learning from one another. George Street Middle School has many newcomer students and the Global Minds club represents 10 different nationalities. Griffin and Byrne also visited the school's Makerspace where students engage in hands-on learning by designing and creating their own homemade projects, as well as the Brilliant Labs studio where cutting edge technology like a 3-D printer can turn a student's mindful invention into total reality.
Principal Pierre Plourde led the tour and explained inclusion in public school has been a journey over many years, becoming an evolution of sorts where students, teachers, and school staff connect, interact and build relationships regardless of specific challenges or differences. Students come to school to learn together on a level playing field and get the support they need along the way in cooperation with parents and families.
"Inclusion at our school is working so that you often can't pick out the students who have challenges," Plourde said, a sure sign that acceptance and understanding are cemented and the learning process is unfolding naturally for all.
Shown in the photo below are (left to right) (1) Irish educators Teresa Griffin and Mary Byrne with George Street Middle School Principal Pierre Plourde and teacher Amanda Collicott inside the school's Global Minds club room; (2) Griffin and Byrne speaking with Jacob Lingley (far left) of Brilliant Labs at George Street Middle School; (3) Grade 7 students Hannah Alexander, Olivia Thomson, Tori Fairweather and Clarie Chaplin working on their projects in the school's Makerspace.