‘Education Is The Key’: Hillside, Jordan Creek Celebrate Inclusion And Respect
Two West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) elementaries celebrated Inclusion Week this March, where learners educated their school communities about a variety of disabilities and promoted kindness and appreciation.
Katie Hoover, a behavior interventionist at Hillside Elementary, said 85 schools in the state partnered with Special Olympics Iowa and the Iowa Department of Education to become Unified Champion Schools. The other WDMCS school that earned Unified Champion School status was Jordan Creek Elementary.
“At Hillside, we are slowly growing a few programs, and partnering with Special Olympics Iowa has helped grow a few options for us,” Hoover said. “A Unified Champion School helps build a culture of acceptance and respect towards all individuals.”
Iowa’s Inclusion Week was March 2-6. Each Unified Champion School chose how they could celebrate. At Hillside, Hoover said 15 sixth-graders made up the school’s planning committee.
“They decided to create daily Morning Meeting lesson plans for the entire school,” she said. “They also wanted to find a way to recognize students in the building who show respect and inclusion, so they created tickets to give away. Special Olympics Iowa helped supply ‘swag’ gear, and names were drawn for those prizes.”
Books and movies were also selected by the student-led planning committee at Hillside as learning options for classes, and learners signed a large inclusion poster that will hang in the school’s entryway. Additionally, Hoover contacted former and current WDMCS students to be part of a panel discussion to end the week’s festivities at Hillside. Every grade listened to the discussion and interacted with the panelists.
At Jordan Creek, counselor Barb Tigges said their student planning committee started discussions and provided insight in guidance lessons, classroom meetings, and daily morning announcements. Jordan Creek also shared an “Inclusion Pledge” during its student-led conferences, which read:
“I pledge to accept, respect, and include people of ALL abilities, including my peers with special needs and disabilities. Inclusion starts with ME! I ACCEPT people of all abilities. I RESPECT others and act with kindness and compassion. I INCLUDE people with special needs and disabilities in the classroom, in the workplace, and in my community.”
Tigges added that families were encouraged to stop by the media center during conferences and write one way they would show respect and inclusion to others on the back of a traced outline of their hand, resembling a leaf.
“We are hanging all the hands as leaves on our newly installed ‘Inclusion Tree’ in the front entryway of our building as a visual reminder to our staff, students, and families to continue to show respect and inclusion to one another daily,” Tigges said.
Hoover said it means a lot to have so much support from students, staff, families, and communities across the district during Inclusion Week.
“Education is the key to inclusion,” she said. “So the more we educate, the faster a building can reach a culture of acceptance and respect.”