Schools are better when everyone is included

Within the colorful walls of an elementary school last week, a teacher asked his students how they can be more inclusive. One student suggested, “If someone is hurt or injured, help them feel better.”

Another student added, “If someone is playing alone, invite them to play with you.”

Our schools are all diverse and special places. Every day we want students to feel respected, valued and accepted for being exactly who they are — no matter where they come from or what challenges they face.

This past week, we took time to celebrate something at the core of what public schools are about. We have inclusive schools, which means we include everyone — and that means everyone — in our classrooms and our schoolyards.

All across San Francisco, schools celebrated inclusion in many ways. For instance, there was a “Random Act of Kindness Day,” and a “Sit With Someone New at Lunch Day.”

At another school, students were asked to contribute to a list of “100 things that make our school inclusive.” Teachers then read the list at a morning assembly for every student to hear.

Some classes also discussed what it feels like to be included, and how to practice kind speech.

Each year during the first week in December, Inclusive Schools Week has celebrated the progress that schools are making in providing a safe and supportive learning environment for an increasingly diverse student population.

If your child goes to an SFUSD school, I hope they tell you how they’re learning to appreciate that people have different kinds of intelligence. I hope they express even more empathy for others.

The great thing about many of inclusive schools activities is that you can practice them at home with your child, too.

When we teach students about inclusivity, we ask them to put themselves in other people’s shoes. Imagine if people thought this way every day — we would have a lot less hurt feelings. We can make schools, and the world, a better place just by being nice to each other.

As part of celebrating our inclusive schools, SFUSD is co-sponsoring the Bay Area premiere of “Intelligent Lives,” a documentary by award-winning filmmaker Dan Habib. Please join me in watching this important film, which stars three pioneering young adults with intellectual disabilities who challenge perceptions of intelligence as they navigate high school, college, and the workforce. SFUSD graduates as well as current SFUSD students will join the filmmaker in a panel after the screening.

When: 6:00 p.m., December 12 (6 p.m. light refreshments. Screening begins 7 p.m.)

Where: Mission High School / 3750 18th Street, San Francisco

Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.

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