Journeys Toward Inclusion Institute
Paola Torres de Pereira, Elementary Principal
On November 17 and 18, 2017, Academia Cotopaxi hosted its first Journeys Toward Inclusion Conference. We are very grateful for the passionate participation of each of the educators who joined to engage in collaborative discussions and learning around inclusion. We intended to spread an interest in inclusion models both locally and internationally. So much more than mere interest happened! Educators shared their school stories, partnerships evolved and specific actions are taking place in many schools.
One of our 12th grade students stood in front of a full auditorium presenting the closing speech for the first day of the conference. He told us his story, how his mind works in different ways, how his fine and gross motor skills present challenges… He shared that he learns really important skills (eating neatly, zipping my backpack, doing homework…), and that he has many strengths. He highlighted how good he is at public speaking and how much he enjoys it. He said this articulating with difficulty, as his hands shaked a bit and his fingers moved involuntarily. He ended by telling us that he has plans to graduate and go to college! The 230 participants who came from different cities in Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela filled the auditorium applauding for inclusion.
During the first afternoon of the conference, we heard inspiring stories from parents, teachers, and students who advocate for the special rights of children who present non-typical needs. The 20 different workshops held on November 17, 2017 were led by Cotopaxi staff and included a wide spectrum of topics all related to inclusive practices.
On Saturday, Kristen Pelletier, founding Co-Director and Design Team Member of the Next Frontier Inclusion (NFI) collaborative, and trainer for the Teacher Training Center, and Education Across Frontiers, led a day of professional development for teachers from the local, international, and public sectors. Participants processed principles, and practiced practical strategies to take away and use in an inclusive classroom so that all children can access the curriculum and thrive.
Cotopaxi ran this learning endeavor offering simultaneous translation to Spanish allowing us to reach not only educators in private international schools, but also extending to connect with local government agencies and teachers in public schools in Ecuador. We believe that all children can learn, and intend to continue our journey so that there are more and more students with mild, moderate and intense needs experiencing academic and social inclusion. We envision that there will also be more and more seniors who graduate from inclusive settings, feeling confident to speak about their learning lives and helping us to lean into their minds designing schools that embrace all students.