The Movement Toward Inclusion in Kenya

In today’s post, our friend David Anderson, Ph.D. shares about his experience working alongside Kenyan leaders and schools to welcome persons with disabilities through his role as president of Crossing Bridges, Inc. 

Meet Eva

One of the brightest and most capable students I had in over 30 years of preparing special education teachers was a Kenyan woman whom God led to Lock Haven University (Lock Haven, PA), where I was teaching in the mid-1980s. My relationship with Eva has continued over the years since she received her degree and returned to her homeland, where she eventually opened a private school, Acorn Special Tutorials, and began serving children with various disabilities.

Eva and Clara at Logos Christian School

Eva and Clara, an administrator at Logos Christian School (Nairobi, Kenya)

It has been my privilege to travel to Kenya a dozen times since 1997 to teach at Daystar University or Great Commission School of Theology, to speak at conferences for pastors and church leaders about the opportunity (and responsibility) to minister to and with families affected by disability. I’ve also had the opportunity to teach students in the diploma program Eva created which prepares teachers to work with students who have a disability. Eva has become a widely-respected and outspoken advocate for the inclusion of children with special needs in Kenyan schools, and I am blessed to partner with her in these efforts.

Education for Students with Disabilities

Although Kenya is a signatory of the United Nation’s “Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities,” (which includes the right to an appropriate education), many social, cultural, and economic factors in Kenya impede full implementation of the Convention (the same is true in many developing nations). Schools in the private sector are more active in seeking to include children with disabilities in their programs. The government schools have been slow to open their doors, especially to students with significant disabilities.

Little Helping Hands School

Students at Little Helping Hands School (Naivasha, Kenya)

In July 2014, Eva and I visited Little Helping Hands School, a private Christian school in Naivasha, to observe several classes for young children with special needs and offer feedback and encouragement to the teachers. It was good to see the effectiveness of those who had attended seminars on special education I presented in 2013, but their need for additional training was apparent. Little Helping Hands School desires to incorporate the children with special needs more directly in its programs. At the school’s request, we will return next year for this purpose.

Visiting Nairobi

Eva also arranged for me to present seminars on inclusive education at two schools in Nairobi. One session was for the Kindergarten Headmistress Association, at the Kensington Kindergarten School. About 30 students studying early childhood education attended this seminar, along with several of their teachers. Questions asked by the students evidenced their desire to understand how to include students with disabilities into their classrooms.

The second session was for the teachers at Logos Christian School, which serves students from early childhood through 8th grade. Although this seminar was on a Friday afternoon at the close of school, roughly 50 teachers and administrators were in attendance—a sign of their interest in moving forward with including students with disabilities in their programs. This school has also requested that we provide more training next year.

I noticed a significant increase in the Kenyan schools’ interest in inclusive education since my first visit in 1997. On this most recent trip, I was able to encourage the Christian schools by sharing information about the effective inclusive programming at Grand Rapids Christian Elementary and Middle Schools. I was also able to help these present and future teachers understand how inclusive education has more to do with the heart than simply head knowledge as we explored what “normalcy” and “disability” mean, and some theological principles that are the basis for inclusion (e.g., interdependence, community, hospitality, etc.).

I’m looking forward to returning next year to continue training teachers and fostering an inclusive environment in Kenyan schools.

How can you support international inclusion efforts?

Prayer. Pray for Eva and Clara as they move forward to implement inclusive education in Kenya.

Connect with Crossing Bridges. Visit our website to learn more about ways you can get involved – directly and indirectly – with our inclusion efforts.

 

David AndersonDavid W Anderson, Ed.D., is Emeritus Professor of Special Education, Bethel University, St. Paul, MN, where he served for 15 years as Director of Graduate Programs in Special Education. He is also President of Crossing Bridges, Inc., an international ministry focusing on issues of disability and special education, which seeks to promote inclusive practices in churches and schools.

A Ten Year Journey: Antonio Finds a School Home

For the last ten years, Jennifer Contreras has been searching for a Christian school in which to enroll her son, Antonio. Over and over, she was told that someone else would be better able to educate Antonio due to his developmental delays. But, as Alma Heights Christian School’s head of school David Gross explains, “Elsewhere doesn’t exist.”

Jennifer Contreras and her son, Antonio

Jennifer Contreras and her son, Antonio

Jennifer recalls contacting twenty-three Christian schools within a 45-minute drive of her home in Pacifica, California. Most often, the school leaders she spoke with couldn’t envision how to serve Antonio and encouraged her to look elsewhere. “I was shocked, I cried in the car after those meetings,” she recalls.

“How could every child not deserve a Christian education?”

That question came to influence other areas of Jennifer’s life.

“I just couldn’t believe that no one else felt the same sense of injustice. I wanted Christianity to be a part of Antonio’s daily life, for him to learn about God from teachers who cared about his faith.”

Discovering an Inclusive Education Model for Christian Schools 

In 2012, as part of her research for a doctoral dissertation on Christian education and students with learning disabilities, Jennifer learned about CLC Network and scheduled a visit. After spending some time at CLC Network partner schools, Jennifer recalls thinking,

“This is what it should be. I’ve seen it, it’s been done. It gave me a picture of what I desired for my son, and the confidence that this methodology could be applied everywhere.”

At the time, Antonio was enrolled in the local public school for his first year of high school. “Antonio started categorizing himself as a ‛special ed kid’ and identified himself apart from ‛general ed kids.’ I could see that the segregated environment wasn’t good for his self esteem and with his growth in learning how to integrate with the general community,” she remembers.

Antonio also began attending Coastside Church, which meets on the campus of Alma Heights Christian School (AHC) (Pacifica, CA), and making friends through the youth group. Jennifer was struggling with trying to find a new church home after seeing Antonio excluded elsewhere, but eventually she attended an event with Antonio. There she met David Gross, head of school at Alma Heights Christian.

Making a Place for Antonio at AHC

David was convinced that Antonio belonged at his school.

“I did not have a strategy in place for educating Antonio, but I was convinced that this was the right place for him.” he says.

Antonio Contreras with his friends

Antonio Contreras with his friends

“We had been making progress toward a more mature and inclusive educational philosophy for several years, and Jennifer told me that she could provide the expertise through CLC Network.”

Jennifer and David quickly came up with a plan, and Jennifer committed to fund the plan herself “with dollars I didn’t have!” she exclaims. “But the train had left the station. We were just trying to catch up.” Jennifer contacted her employer and learned they would match her gift to AHC, up to $50,000. The plan calls for launching the first year as a pilot, and adding resource staff as more students enroll.

Making Strides at Alma Heights

Antonio started attending AHC this fall as a 10th grade student. In the first weeks of school, he has already made strides. Antonio shares, “I like AHC because I can go to school with my friends from church.” But, the positive effects extend beyond that: Antonio’s verbal and math skills have significantly improved.

“We think that because he is around typically abled kids, he is able to model his speech after them,” shares Jennifer.

YoderBarb

Teacher consultants Greg Yoder and Barbara Newman provided initial training and support to AHC; CLC Network will continue to assist the school as they include Antonio and other learners.

No one objected to the idea of enrolling Antonio, but there were many questions around how it would work. CLC Network consultants Greg Yoder and Barbara Newman made an early visit to the school in August to meet and train teachers, and to witness the first day of school. Greg reflected,

“It was a thrill for Barb and me to share this day with Jennifer that has literally been ten years in the making. God is truly at work at AHC and his fingerprints are all over.”

In addition to partnering with CLC Network, AHC hired Antonio’s former tutor to provide part-time support.

“Word was barely out that we were working with CLC Network and doing this, and we had another student (in addition to Antonio) enroll yesterday,” David shares.

“I’m guessing I’ll get in over my head, but CLC Network is here to help prevent that. I am excited about becoming a community that’s not defined by narrow outcomes for kids, that we are growing their souls instead.”

Thanks to the support of many donors, CLC Network is thrilled to bring our knowledge to California. David shares, “I look forward to confidently saying to other administrators, ‘See! It’s better this way.’ Then I hope that we can be a toehold for inclusive Christian education in the entire Bay area.”

 

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2014 Inclusive newsletter.  Learn more about creating inclusive communities on the CLC Network website

 

Elizabeth Dombrowski photoElizabeth Lucas Dombrowski is the director of advancement at CLC Network.

Graduation Among Friends

Kloosterman family

Jonathan enjoyed celebrating his graduation surrounded by family and friends.

“If you had told me 20 years ago that my son would graduate from high school, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Bob Kloosterman shakes his head in amazement.  His son, Jonathan, graduated from South Christian High School (Grand Rapids, MI) this past spring.

“When we enrolled Jonathan at Dutton Christian School (Caledonia, MI) all those years ago, we didn’t know what to expect.  It was all so new,” he recalls.

“But we saw almost immediately that we didn’t have to worry.  Someone was going to watch out for him.  And his teachers have done a really wonderful job.”

For most students with disabilities, graduation is a very big deal.  And for someone as social as Jonathan, it was extra meaningful to walk across the stage with his classmates.  South Christian offers a certificate of completion, which serves to verify that students have completed goals within an alternative track of study throughout high school.

“I really liked walking down the aisle at graduation with my friends and getting my diploma,” shares Jonathan.  “But I was a little nervous.”

“He was nervous about the graduation ceremony, but the person before or after him helped make sure it went smoothly.  That’s the kind of thing that’s really special to me,” admits Bob.

“When I was that age, my generation was not always so accepting and nice to kids with disabilities.  But I can’t remember anything negative from his entire school experience.”

Congratulations to Jonathan and his peers on their graduation and best wishes on their next steps in life!

Elizabeth Dombrowski photoElizabeth Lucas Dombrowski is the advancement director at CLC Network. 

Building the Kingdom at Sussex Christian School

We are thrilled to share this story from Trish King, principal at Sussex Christian School (Sussex, NJ), on the impact of inclusion on their community.

Photo of Charlote and Corey

Charlote and her friend Corey work on an assignment. You can see why everyone loves her smile!

Meet my friend, Charlote, a third-grade student at Sussex Christian School (SCS). Charlote was adopted from an orphanage in China when she was six years old.

We were so excited to welcome Charlote into our school as a kindergarten student in 2010.  Charlote smiled all of the time and immediately became the most popular student in the school; all the students wanted to spend recess with her.

Both teachers and students could tell that she was eager to learn, but it was difficult to tell what she knew, since she could only speak her native language, Mandarin.  Despite these difficulties, her teacher and class embraced her and it was good. 

But as the kindergartners progressed, Charlote didn’t.  She was learning, but at a slower rate than her classmates.  It was hard to tell if she had a disability or if it was a language barrier.  After much prayer and persistence we were able to test her and found that there was more to her learning difficulty than a language barrier.

Charlote, Corey, and school staff smile for a photo.

We’re so glad to now have the academic support resources to welcome ALL of God’s kids at our school.

Because we could not provide the services Charlote needed to learn and succeed at Sussex Christian, Charlote needed to transfer to a public school.  We would miss her presence–especially her smile–at our school. This move forced us to revisit our commitment to including ALL of God’s children. That year, we decided to partner with CLC Network to help us welcome and support students like Charlote at SCS.

We were so thrilled when Charlote returned to our school at SCS last year!  We welcomed her into our second grade classroom, with academic support provided by our inclusion teacher, Mrs. MacMillien.  Though she had progressed at her former school, she was not reading yet. This time, we were equipped with the resources to support her.

Last June, I stopped in the second grade class where I found Charlote and a friend staying inside during recess.  The two had been making Father’s Day cards.

Though Charlote had struggled with reading, she walked over to a desk and immediately started reading everything that was on the Father’s Day card.

She didn’t know it, but I had tears running down my cheeks.  She was reading!  Praise God for the amazing things that are happening here!

Though inclusion isn’t always easy, we lean on this promise from the Psalms: “Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him and he will bring it to pass” (Psalm 37:6 NKJV). We prayerfully trust that as we commit to welcoming ALL of God’s kids, that he will continue to provide the support and resources, like our partnership with CLC Network, that make this possible.

Learn about the growth of another SCS student in this blog post.

Trish King photoTrish King has been an administrator at Sussex Christian School for eleven years. She is a graduate of Westminster College (New Willmington, PA) and Baptist Bible College (Clark Summit, PA).

Meet Our New Staff Members!

We are pleased to welcome five new staff members to our team this year, who bring years of expertise and a commitment to creating inclusive communities. Please join us in welcoming:

Tim Annema

Tim Annema photoOnline Courses Instructor, Algebra and Geometry

I am excited to begin working at CLC Network as it combines many passions in my life. These include working with middle school students, the use of technology in education, mathematics, and the exploration and revelation of Christ’s redemptive work in creation.

Kristin Contant

Kristin Contant photoOnline Courses Instructor, 6th and 7th Grade Honors English

I am looking forward to sharing my love of literature, writing, and my faith with my students through teaching 7th grade honors English.

Elaine Kappers

Elaine Kappers photoTeacher Consultant serving Central Wisconsin Christian School (WI)

Looking at my role with CLC Network, I’m looking forward to working with the CLC Network team and learning from their knowledge and expertise. I also look forward to working at other schools and helping them with the challenges they face.

Jacki Sikkema

Jacki Sikkema photoChurch Services Consultant and Coordinator

As I delve into my work here at CLC Network, I look forward to equipping churches and communities with tools to better include those who have disabilities. I’m also excited to see how God works in these communities, displaying His love through each and every member as they grow in Him.

Linda Weemhoff

Linda WeemhoffTeacher Consultant serving Hull Christian (IA), Netherlands Reformed Christian (IA), Orange City Christian (IA), Rock Valley Christian (IA), and Western Christian (IA) schools

I am very thankful that God is opening a new door for me. God has uniquely created all of us and I am excited that He is giving me the opportunity to continue to work with students and teachers as we all discover more about how God has gifted each of us to work in His Kingdom.

Encourage these individuals as they begin their work by sharing a note of welcome in the comment section below!