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The Next Frontier in Bangalore

By Bill and Ochan Powell
The Next Frontier in Bangalore

The Next Frontier Inclusion (NFI) Design Team visits 30–35 international schools in the course of an academic year and we often find ourselves involved in conversations about the inclusion of children and young adults with learning challenges. We are indeed gratified that more and more international schools are embracing this challenge. School membership in the NFI is over the one hundred mark and the NFI Conversations have become so popular that we have had to schedule additional sessions in more regions of the world. This is the good news.
The less-good news is that, on occasion, we still hear the same tired excuses from school leaders as to why a journey towards greater inclusion won’t work at their particular institution. Generally, these excuses fall into several categories: resources, community approval, and professional capacity. We hear that the community lacks the resources to support students with special needs. We hear that the parent community just isn’t ready for the change. We hear that the teachers would simply be overwhelmed.
Let us introduce you to Bangalore International School. If you have never visited BIS, you really should try to drop in. It is a very remarkable school, one that regularly sends its graduates to the most prestigious universities on the planet and at the same time works with mild-, moderate-, and intensive-needs students so that they, too, may achieve their dreams. BIS certainly doesn’t have the largest school budget or the flashiest facilities, but it does have a robust inclusive vision of education that is truly inspiring!
Most recently, Bangalore International School was the venue for an NFI Professional Conversation. Over 90 participants (school leaders, special educators, and teachers) representing 32 schools gathered for two and a half days of presentations, class visits, workshops, and conversations. Topics included: “Name that Fear” (the fears and apprehensions associated with inclusion), “Establishing a Common Language,” “Effective Child Study Team meetings,” and the pros and cons of different service delivery models. In addition, two panel discussions took place: one composed of parents of students with special needs and the second composed of the students themselves.
The message from the parents was one of enormous appreciation and gratitude. Several of them spoke of the arduous test of having their child rejected at one school after another, or of having two siblings accepted for admission and the one child with the learning difference rejected. When asked what advice these parents had for other parents, the single word of advice was “acceptance.” When parents and schools accept that disabilities are a real feature of a school population, we can begin an honest conversation about the proverbial elephant in the room.
The student panel was no less poignant. Composed of students with intensive needs, we learned about how they employed their strengths when faced with challenges, about the characteristics of teachers who were most likely to increase their commitment to learn, and about how the school had helped them to self-advocate. And we learned about their dreams for the future. One wanted to be a wildlife photographer, another to enter the aeronautics industry, still another to become a history teacher. It was truly inspiring to be present in a school that was living its mission to allow all students—not just a select few—to pursue their dreams.

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