It was truly a blessing to join the thousands of education professionals in Chicago at the 2019 NCEA Convention & Expo! McCormick Place was a sea of faithful Catholics from all over the country who are as passionate about academic excellence and faith formation as EMBRACE. Most importantly, it was exciting to feel the momentum toward and learn more about the results of inclusive approaches to special education and learners with exceptionalities.
Our experience began the night before the conference with the 4th annual Inclusion Summit. EMBRACE co-hosted this event with leaders of strategic partner organizations and their respective advocates. The crowd of around 100 educators and professionals created a collaborative and joyous atmosphere.
Beth Foraker of the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion emceed the event and helped set the tone of engagement and collaboration. Attendees heard from several national leaders in inclusive Catholic education. Francesca Pellegrino, Founder and President of the Catholic Coalition for Special Education shared their rich history of helping prepare schools for inclusion through instructional coaching, professional development, and seed grants.
Lynn Hire, Executive Director of FIRE Foundation in Kansas City, Mo, celebrated awarding $510,000 in grants for 2018 that support 14 schools. This translated into 237 students welcomed into Catholic education that would not otherwise be included. One Classroom’s founder and director, Tony Armitage, shared about their early success as an advocate and grant-making organization in St. Louis, Missouri. And, I was able to speak briefly about EMBRACE as we move into our second year of helping Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
A very special surprise guest captured the hearts and imaginations of those gathered by sharing about the work of Special Olympics through their Unified Champion Schools program. Soeren Palumbo, Vice President of Global Youth Engagement, shared how inclusive education can use the power of sport to change the hearts, minds, and cultures of school communities. Social connections in the classroom move onto the field of play to create opportunities to build lasting relationships and dimensions of leadership that otherwise would remain out of reach for both typical learners and those with exceptionalities.
Taking full advantage of the passion and knowledge of those gathered at the event, breakout teams shared best practices on the challenges that face schools as they move to embrace all learners. Topics included finance and fundraising, best practices for inclusive education, collaboration between schools and teachers, demonstrated results, and the development of advocacy among school and diocesan leadership. As educators, leaders, and advocates worked in small groups and then shared with the larger group, it was a clear that the Holy Spirit is at work in Catholic schools across the country to bring about full inclusion.
You can view the presentations and reports from the breakout groups in their entirety via Facebook Live-streaming below.