If you graduated high school before the 1990’s, chances are you never had a friend at school with a physical or developmental difference. Children living with autism, cerebral palsy or down syndrome, for example, were typically in separate classes and often in separate schools. Research continues to evolve the public school system toward inclusive classrooms that emphasize learner-centered approaches.
Watch the Club G video and be inspired by the actions within one school community to foster a culture of inclusion, compassion and generosity.
When Ges entered the school system, his mother Carmen admits feeling apologetic for the extra resources it took to support Ges and to integrate him into the classroom and school culture. It was not until Club G was created, when Ges was in grade 4, that Carmen became aware of the full impact that learning alongside someone like Ges offered to other children. It was, in fact, the Grade 4 Club G members who demonstrated to Carmen that her son gave them a gift; the opportunity to be courageous in their acts of inclusion. She was awed at how persistent Ges’ peers were at their efforts to be friends with him despite the fact that interacting with someone like Ges can be confusing.
Long Term Benefits
In addition to the short term benefits obvious in the video, Club G is leaving an educational legacy. Carmen has observed that Club G has provided children with a fuller education of compassionate leadership and character.
Participating in Club G offered children a break from playground politics. Research shows that social hierarchies emerge as early as kindergarten and can influence long term mental and physical health as well as educational outcomes. Because Club G activities occurred during lunch or recess, an alternative was created that allowed a different composition of children to discover how they belonged. Carmen saw three categories of behaviours:
Leaders who embraced the opportunity to learn, design and implement Club G activities.
Well-intentioned children who became open to the learning and personal growth that comes with participating in Club G. In this group, she witnessed stronger self-concepts, growing self-esteem, and blossoming compassion.
Children who were not comfortable interacting with Ges. Despite the lack of direct involvement, these children now experience a new set of norms that are created with peers about inclusion, acceptance, and they know and naturally accept that bullying, shame and exclusion just don’t have a place at school.
Professor and researcher of character development Marvin Berkowitz writes that character education is, in fact, rocket science. School-based processes to foster the character development in students is multi-faceted and complex. The experiences in Club G has shaped who the peers are and how they interact with people who are different than them. In effect, Club G has offered enduring life lessons, transferable skills and character lessons that previous generations did not have.
Why? What is it about Club G that makes such a lasting difference? Three years since the formation of Club G, Carmen watches the original peer group finish elementary school and mentor younger grades in the art of friendship. She reflects that the lasting impact of Club G is the connections created for all those involved . Club G is an example of how inclusive schools are not solely about “giving” to those who have extra challenges but being open to the potential of positive change that we can all “get”.
Learner-centered practices include:
- encouraging students to actively contribute to classroom content and assessment decisions,
respecting and supporting the unique developmental and cultural differences of each student, and,
valuing interactions with students in an egalitarian manner, as dynamic co-creators of the learning experience rather than passive consumers of it.
Maryellen Weimar writes; learner-centered teaching focuses attention on what the student is learning, how the student is learning, the conditions under which the student is learning, whether the student is retaining and applying the learning, and how current learning positions the student for future learning.
Carmen Farrell and Wendy Holtan's learning and leadership during the creation and implementation of Club G is sustained in their ongoing work with the SEED Society (Social Emotional Empathy Development Society).
Social stratification, classroom climate, and the behavioral adaptation of kindergarten children.
This study observed 338 five year old children in 29 public school classrooms for adaptive behaviours that were the result of their position within the classroom hierachies.
With publications in both the Journal of Moral Education (2006) and High Ability Studies (2009), Marvin Berkowitz reviews character education as a discipline and explores how it connects with schools.