One of my immediate thoughts after viewing the movie, which came about because we were awarded Changemaker School status by Ashoka in late 2014 is : Why are there not more schools which are embracing inclusion? Pinelands North Primary School chooses to be different.We have chosen inclusion as a philosophy of education. It is about embracing acceptance, tolerance, love, anti-bias education everyday, because this is an ongoing daily struggle. We are engaged in exciting and innovative problem solving everyday because children are beautifully complex and their needs are ever changing. We also spend a lot of time defending our position, because we have been swimming against the tide for so long, but it has helped us become stronger in our resolve to advocate for children’s rights! Good teaching embraces the principles of inclusive education- that all children can learn. In order to become more inclusive schools need to embrace brave leadership, ask for help and just try! Inclusion is the way of the future, yesterday’s mistakes become today’s AHA Moments!
We have learnt the most about inclusion from our children and what you see in the movie are authentic interactions between the children at Pinelands North. The children do laugh a lot, I love seeing the children talking to each other and watching their interactions. They not only run out of class at the end of the day to an extramural, or home, but they also sometimes run to different classes during the day, a sign of exhuberance and excitement about what they could be learning next.
The children play in the mornings before school, largely unsupervised and generally have very few issues. We presume competence and trust that they will make good choices. As you can see in the movie, the children line up in mixed gender lines, they line up as human beings, not in a boys line or girls line. The children interact with each other in healthy ways and disagreements and the occasional fights are resolved, not always the first time, as some children take longer to acquire the skills required for restoration in relationships to occur.
In one Grade 2 class which has a ‘ persona doll called Zack, (a life sized doll which is used to teach empathy in the classroom) the doll has albinism and when the children line up after break time, the child holding Zack always stands in the shade. The teacher told me that they have never asked if they can do it, they just know he needs to be in the shade and so they are learning advocacy. They have enough agency to stand up for what they believe. This is how we move from inclusion to belonging because we all belong!
When you visit Pinelands North ( via the movie or in person) you will see real life- complexity, diversity, tolerance, compassion, longing and despair. You will see moments of pain and sadness, but more moments of joy, hope and love. You can feel it in the air because the children breathe life into every corner of our school and we accept the challenge that because they are there, we have work to do! The best work we can do is watch them closely and see how best they learn and most of the time we do.
When you watch the video look again at the interactions between the children- communicating, accepting and laughing. The talking and connecting is what strikes me when I watch the movie.Those moments, the examples of love, empathy, problem solving and innovation. Sometimes the simplest things are the most innovative- put a child with what is considered high needs with a child whose needs may be much simpler and see what happens. They look at each other , they talk, they laugh together, they have become friends because of something as simple as proximity. People need to be together not separated from each other- how else can we learn what we all need.
If I could end with an anecdote: In 2014 I was talking to a group of Grade 7 boys about the state of extreme conflict in the world. One of the boys said: “Mrs.Reynolds, children should rule the world.” I asked why and he said: ” Because all you teachers at Pinelands North do is teach and encourage us to solve our conflicts peacefully.” You may not be able to see this in the movie, but this is what makes the school a unique place, where we are hoping and planning to change the world, one child at a time!
* It is important that I extend our thanks, love and appreciation to Maggie Lemere [ Oral historian and film maker with Ashoka] and Nathan Golon [ director of Photography with Washington DC based GoodFight Media] and their teams, who in one week captured the essence of Pinelands North in this 7 minute movie. They most importantly honoured every child in their depiction of what happens at our very special school!