Since its inception in 2001, Inclusive Schools Week has sought to celebrate the progress that schools have made in providing a supportive and quality education to an increasingly diverse student population.

Traditionally celebrated during the first full week of December, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District got a jump on the festivities early when it hosted McKinley Elementary School Principal Ashley Benjamin during Thursday night’s board of education meeting.

“I’m excited to be here tonight for the National Inclusive Schools Week Resolution, and to share about how McKinley fosters the inclusion of students with special needs,” Benjamin said during Thursday’s meeting, where she discussed the unique inclusivity initiatives occurring at the local elementary school.

“At McKinley, our school philosophy is the ‘PRIDE’ philosophy and the D stands for diversity because we are very lucky to have a diverse student population,” Benjamin said, mentioning the school has 22 different languages spoken on campus and approximately 12% of students have an Individualized Education Plan. “So students learn from their very first day at McKinley that diversity is something that we don’t just accept, but it’s something that we value and we can all learn from each other.”

Part of the diversity that is valued at McKinley, according to Benjamin, is the campus’ students with special needs.

“We are home to two special education programs. Both of which promote inclusion,” Benjamin said, before explaining the preschool collaborative program, which houses a smaller general education class comprised both of students in general education as well as students with IEPs. The class also features a general education teacher and special education teacher who co-teach alongside other service providers.

This allows for all of the class’ students to enjoy an opportunity to interact with and learn from each other, Benjamin said during her presentation, before discussing other ways inclusion appears in local classrooms.

Parents also have the opportunity to get involved in the inclusion efforts as McKinley’s Special Education Resource Group has begun to become more active this year, and the school’s recently instituted Positive Behavior Intervention Support Plan also helps to promote inclusion by instituting techniques that are directly taken from the Olweus Anti-Bullying program, according to Benjamin, who said teachers and students also get to discuss and promote inclusion during Morning Community Meetings and certain classroom lessons.

“We also utilize a variety of adaptive equipment so students with special needs can be with their peers on the playground,” Benjamin said, explaining how the school’s adaptive inclusive swing on its playground allows students in wheelchairs to play with their peers during recess. “We also have an (Occupational Therapy) and a (Physical Therapy) room with a variety of resources, such as trampolines and rollers… wiggle seats and slant boards.”

So whether it’s physical, social or academic activities, Benjamin said it’s McKinley staff find it important to always find unique ways to promote inclusivity, “because it provides students the opportunity to develop empathy which prepares them to live and be successful in a diverse world.”

Shortly after the completion of the presentation, the district’s board of education approved a resolution recognizing the week of Dec. 2-6, 2019 as National Inclusive Schools Week.

The next SMMUSD Board Meeting will be held on Thursday, December 12 in the District Office, 1651 16th Street, Santa Monica.

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