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.

Inclusive Schools Week is traditionally celebrated during the first full week of December but thanks to the many schools in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, the festivities stretched a bit further into December this year.

SMMUSD’s board of education previously hosted McKinley Elementary School Principal Ashley Benjamin to discuss her school’s PRIDE philosophy — and at the district’s final meeting of the year on Tuesday, Dec. 12, multiple representatives from Grant Elementary School spoke about their school’s pride for neurodiversity.

“(Inclusion) week provides an important opportunity for educators, students and parents to discuss what needs to be done in order to ensure that their schools continue to improve their ability to successfully educate all children,” said board president Jon Kean.

“In the spirit of inclusion tonight, we actually brought a big team here,” Principal Christian Fuhrer added during the meeting, before delving into a discussion on the school’s various initiatives.

“Inclusion does not simply mean the placement of students with disabilities in general education classes,” Fuhrer said. “The process must incorporate fundamental changes in the way a school community supports and addresses the individual needs of a child,” because inclusive education not only benefits students with disabilities; it also helps create an environment where every student has the opportunity to flourish.

“Neurodiversity is the viewpoint that brain differences are normal rather than deficits (and) those differences appear in how the brain is wired and how it functions to support thinking and learning,” Fuhrer added, describing the many benefits of the concept and how it reduces harmful stigmas.

Of the 605 students at Grant, more than 100 scholars possess an Individualized Education Program, according to Fuhrer, who would introduce teacher Brittany Adams-Hoffman to share the perspective of a special education teacher.

“While there are so many benefits to inclusion, the primary ones that have stood out to me in my experience are — first — the development of diversified friendships,” Adams-Hoffman said.

“I have witnessed students who have significant challenges in communication become with friends with typically developing peers and become more motivated to communicate with everyone around them,” Adams-Hoffman said, explaining how the interactions help students generally acquire skills more quickly.

“Neurodiverse students and neurotypical students alike benefit by being given the opportunity to support one another in learning, Adams-Hoffman said, “(because) allowing our students to experience diversity in all forms, gives all of our children the advantage of awareness and the love of difference.”

“In SMMUSD, we have worked hard to provide inclusive education for our students,” Kean said. “We support our students by providing education to most of our students on comprehensive campuses and we are proud of the work that has been done and will continue to support all of our students and their individual needs.”

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