Inclusive education has become a recent worldwide phenomenon with a broad definition. It is the inclusion of everyone as whole, no matter a student’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic backgrounds or religion.
Colorado Mesa University Associate Professor of Teacher Education Ann Gillies has become an advocate for inclusive education. While growing up in Ohio, she started volunteering for kids with disabilities. She then taught elementary students with disabilities for 18 years.
“It’s been my mission ever since I started teaching to do more to include students with and without disabilities together,” Gillies said.
At CMU, she works with undergraduate students in general education programs and graduate students in the special education graduate program. In both degrees, she talks about how important it is to make everybody feel like they belong.
Gillies teaches skills to differentiate instructions for a teacher to be effective with all kinds of learners in his or her classroom.
Next fall, CMU will be offering early childhood special education as a new major as an undergraduate bachelor’s degree. New classes will teach students different disability labels and how to effectively work with particular disabilities like autism, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities and emotional behavior disabilities.
After graduating through this program, students will qualify for the Colorado Teaching Licensure, which will officially teach students with and without disabilities in early childhood and elementary education.
“A lot of the program will focus on community building within the classroom, facilitating a very strong community of diverse learners,” Gillies said.
The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Student Chapter is a club on campus that focuses on the national organization that supports educators of students with and without disabilities. Two hundred and twenty members promote and prepare people for inclusive education.
CMU’s CEC chapter is dedicated to going out into the Grand Junction community to do activities with students of all ages, as well as adults, to promote more inclusiveness in Grand Junction.
They partner with nonprofit organizations such as Strive, Mosaic and Riverside Education Center and help with events, fundraisers, holiday parties, 5Ks and festivals. This gives CMU students hands on experience in the field.
On April 8, CEC volunteered at a prom in the Double Tree Hotel for both young children and adults with disabilities.
Noelle Berg, a freshman, who wishes to pursue the degree in early childhood special education next year, attended the event.
“I thought it was really rewarding, just having fun with all the kids there. They all had a smile on their faces every time I went out on the dance floor,” Berg said.
“It was just a blast,” Gillies said. “Everybody was dressed up beautifully, there was great food, everyone was dancing.”
Prior to the dance, CMU’s CEC chapter went to planning meetings, developed flyers and collected prom dresses to hand out to the young women with disabilities and created corsages and boutonnieres.
CMU’s CEC Chapter four core lady officers will fly out to Boston, MA alongside Gillies on Tuesday, April 18 to present at the national CEC conference during the week.
At the end of July, Gillies will travel to Tanzania to work with students with disabilities through Mosaic, an internationally non-organization that has centers in Tanzania and Eastern Europe.
“My hope is that I make a lot of connections with people in Tanzania and maybe come back and find some way to bring students down next summer,” Gillies said.
She will be working in local schools to teach communication skills and introduce the inclusive education philosophy to teachers there.