Brendan Callas wakes up for work with one goal which he carries in his mind throughout the day.
“I want my classroom to be a place that’s safe, fun and engaging,” said Callas who has been teaching for five years with the Yk1 school board. “My hope is that students go home thinking about the awesome day they had.”
Callas and fellow Range Lake North School teacher Jennifer Kravitz are role models when it comes to incorporating the idea of an inclusive classroom, said Yk1 supervisor of instruction Courtney Lizotte.
The need for inclusive schooling is not just for students with special needs, said Lizotte, adding there have been changes in the way boards look at an inclusive curriculum.
“We are now implementing a strength-based approach when we look at inclusive schooling … this isn’t ‘special-ed’ anymore” said Lizotte. “It can be a huge growing stage for children who have autism to get them interacting and communicating with other students … also it allows other students to show empathy towards one and other.”
Lizotte added both Callas and Kravitz have been very innovative in the way they have approached running their classrooms saying the two have been ahead of the curve.
Callas was involved in coaching basketball before he entered a classroom. He said his passion for inclusive education began while working a summer job with the NWT Disabilities Council in 2012, where he would accompany people with disabilities to tennis lessons and basketball camps.
“It was my time in the classroom which helped me to understand how important it was to build a sense of community,” said Callas, who began his career as an education assistant in Yk1.
Now a junior kindergarten teacher, Callas said he enjoys applying his lessons in younger classrooms because he feels the students are able to show more empathy.
“I want all my students to make mistakes without judgment,” he said. “The most rewarding way to live is by embracing each other’s differences, building empathy and knowing no two people are alike.”
Kravitz a native of Mississauga, Ont began studied education at Humber College. She has been a teacher in the territory for 13 years and says her and Callas’ mission to provide inclusive schooling to the two kindergarten classes at Range Lake North are similar. Perhaps, added Kravitz, because she is still a kid at heart.
“I want to make sure I help these kids develop a life long love of learning,” said Kravitz.
Kravitz said an important aspect of inclusive schooling is to make sure all children get quality education, adding no one should be left behind.
“Everyone in a classroom should understand they belong and are valued,” she said while helping students open up their snacks before recess. “I just hope they have fun and excited to come back the next day … I love getting to know them.”
Stable support for inclusive education elusive: MLA
There has been an active discussion around funding for inclusive schooling during the GNWT Education Culture and Employment’s budget review.
For the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the GNWT has allotted $881,000 for inclusive schooling across the districts.
However, the amount of money which has been allocated is being met with some skepticism from Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green, who questions where the money is coming from. She’s convinced funding is simply being transferred from one department to another.
“I am going to go out on a limb here and say the schools are not going to be very happy to know they are losing $881,000 from one allocation in order to have inclusive schooling funded from that same amount of money,” said Green during a Feb. 20 budget review. “This is an area that needs constant support. The schools cannot be going up and down according to enrolment.”
Education Minister Alfred Moses said the money was available for inclusive schooling because of decreased enrolment in Grade 4 and kindergarten classes.