Frank J. Mitchell honoured for inclusive efforts

A national award is being given to Frank J. Mitchell Elementary for their efforts in creating an inclusive environment for all its students.

Frank J. Mitchell Elementary (FJM) in Sparwood is being awarded for their inclusionary efforts by the Canadian Association for Community Living and Inclusion BC.

The National Inclusive Education Award highlights Frank J. Mitchell’s staff “for creating a culture of inclusion at the school and recognizing the unique abilities of all students,” according to Inclusion BC.

Principal Christine McKie said, “I’ve been really humbled but appreciative and proud of our school.”

McKie said that the main reason for the award was FJM’s forward-thinking approach to children with special needs in the classroom.

“We wanted to move away from the mindset of separating kids with special needs to all kids in their grade-level classroom learning alongside one another,” explained McKie. “Their learning is then differentiated to meet their specific learning needs. The teacher makes that adjustment with the student service teachers and with the education assistants so that each child’s needs are being met … It’s kids all learning together in the classroom, regardless of their ability.”

The adjustments include welcoming a service dog to FJM’s teaching team.

A Grade 5 boy named Tyler who has autism uses a service dog named Cookie that McKie says “has really become part of the team [at FJM].”

Dominique Pinksen, the parent who nominated the school, said of the application process, “When I went to fill out the nomination form it required the name of an individual to honour. For me, there wasn’t one individual that has created an inclusive environment, it was a team effort.”

Pinksen has two children who attend FJM. Marcus, a Grade 3 student and Anthony, a Grade 1 student with cerebral palsy.

“Anthony currently is non-verbal but he does know sign language,” said McKie, “and the kids in his classroom have learned some of the signs that he uses so they can communicate. He’s a Grade 1 student who participates in everything his classmates do. We just make adjustments for whatever he needs.”

Anthony also currently uses an iPad app called Touch Chat that can essentially speak for him with dedicated buttons that can vocalize his needs or his responses to teachers.

McKie will attend a ceremony to receive the award at the Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver on May 28.