Reflections on the Inclusion aspect of our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Key Strategy

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear students, staff, families and community,

Last week I joined a crowd of nearly a thousand fans in the gym at Bellingham High School to cheer on high school athletes—some in red and black, some in green and gold—at a packed Thursday night basketball game. The next night, across town, players in blue and silver lined up against each other for a Friday night scrimmage at Squalicum … scenes that could happen in gyms across our nation on any given winter evening. These games had a little twist, though, and I wanted to share with you some thoughts about them, and what they represent to me and other district staff and families.

As you may remember, last year we added a sixth key strategy to The Bellingham Promise, to more strongly call out our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. Our district and community has spent quite a bit of time engaging with the concepts of both equity and diversity. We have made progress and know we have much more to do.

Inclusion, however, is a less familiar topic, and I am often asked what we mean when we say “inclusion.” After all, aren’t all kids included at school?

A common definition of inclusion is: the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of other minority groups.

In education, we are also governed by a number of federal laws that prioritize inclusion and state that all students have the right to learn in the least restrictive environment possible for them. Over the decades these laws have been in place—just a generation or two—we’ve learned that, generally, it is more effective for students with special needs, in fact all students, to have inclusive experiences for them to be more successful in social and academic interactions, leading to further success in life. This means today’s students are together, they are all included, as often as possible in classrooms and learning experiences in pre-K through high school.

This brings me back to the basketball game. You see, this was a Unified basketball game.

One of the best examples of inclusion in our schools is our Unified Sports program, a partnership with the Special Olympics.  Over the past years, thanks to some amazing staff and phenomenal students, we as a district have expanded these opportunities.  Last week all three of our unified high school basketball teams played, including a big one between Sehome and Bellingham, and gained some attention from our local paper and our student media.

The crowd at the Squalicum Unified game.

The crowd at the BHS and SHS Unified game.

We haven’t achieved this ideal yet. We as a district and a community need to continue pushing ourselves to be more inclusive.  One of the core values of The Bellingham Promise is “together we achieve more than alone.” Inclusive programs like unified sports teach our kids how to be together with lots of kinds of people, and we are continually seeking ways for our students to be unified within their classrooms as well.

Thank you again to our students, coaches, and community for supporting our efforts. Together you help us all achieve more for all of our kids.

Thanks,

Greg Baker