For many years, there was not one school in the entire city of Boston, Massachusetts (located in the northeast section of the United States) where students with developmental or significant disabilities could learn together with their nondisabled peers. Parents organized and lobbied tenaciously until city leaders voted to start inclusion at the O'Hearn Elementary School in September 1989 (the O'Hearn was re-named the Henderson Inclusion School in 2009). Because of continued parent pressure and community support, the Henderson has now expanded to serve up to 900 students in 2 buildings from early childhood through grade 12. Students come from diverse ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Approximately 33% have a mild, moderate, or significant disability which impacts learning.
Although we were always committed to inclusion, staff were not initially sure exactly how we were going to do it. The staff worked very hard along with tremendous supports and insights from parents, universities, local businesses, and the community to figure out how to develop a successful school where every child with and without disabilities could learn and succeed. Over the years, we have identified and implemented a wide variety of programs, materials, and technologies. Basically we will utilize anything that is humane, legal, and works to help students participate and succeed.
The Henderson Inclusion School has proven to be one of Boston’s most successful schools. Students’ scores on state and national assessments measuring achievement on rigorous standards have been relatively high. The school is popular for families of students with and without disabilities (Boston allows parents to choose from approximately 10 schools in their general neighborhood). Family involvement is strong, and the arts and creativity flourish.
When we started inclusion, some predicted that we would be lowering standards and teaching down to the level of students working below grade level. On the contrary, good inclusion is about teaching up, helping and challenging all students to participate and perform at the highest possible standards. Although not every student at the Henderson School has achieved at the level that parents and staff have desired and although some students with disabilities have transferred to more traditional substantially separate programs, most students with and without disabilities have stayed and progressed significantly at the Henderson Inclusion School.
Inclusion is hard work, but it can also be rewarding and a lot of fun. Together we are better.
Learn more about the inclusion model done by the Henderson Inclusion School: http://bit.ly/1sXafoC
William Henderson was principal of the Henderson Inclusion School from 1989 to 2009. He continues to advocate for inclusion at universities and conferences.