“There’s something magical about this place,” shares Greg Yoder, CLC Network’s teacher consultant serving West Highland Christian Academy in Milford, Michigan. “Students are leaving with a love, caring, and understanding of the differences in every person. It’s a wonderful microcosm of the real world.”
West Highland’s teachers and parents agree that this student body is truly a family. After their first year of inclusive education with a student who had significant special needs, students responded to a survey telling the teachers they couldn’t imagine their school without that student.
The next year, five more students with disabilities enrolled.
“I expected it to grow, but not that quickly,” shares Trina Mavin, the school’s Principal. “But when God sends someone to this school, we have to trust that He’s going to make it work.”
With 85 students in grades from kindergarten to twelfth grade, part of West Highland’s secret is to keep class sizes small. “Our teachers are incredibly supportive, and we serve each student individually rather than creating a program,” adds Mavin.
The school also enlists the students’ help with their classmates. Currently, seven students serve as student aids, helping three students with disabilities to get where they need to be and to work on specific goals. Next year, one high school student will shadow a younger students’ therapy, receiving early training for a career in special education.
After being told he wouldn’t graduate from his previous school, one tenth-grade student with autism spectrum disorder is now on the path to a diploma.
“The students really reach out to my son and teach him social skills, without ostracizing him or making him feel different,” explains Barb Barber, Tim’s mom. “Tim has come out of his shell, and he is getting A’s and B’s in some general education courses. He’s using his brain and really progressing.”
In addition, West Highland Christian Academy specializes in working with students who have dyslexia. “Because we have such small classes, students were functioning okay before we implemented screening,” explains Mavin. “Now that their dyslexia has been identified, they’re doing much better.” The dyslexia program serves seventeen current West Highland students as well as ten area students enrolled in after school programs.
“I believe all Christian schools can do something,” says Mavin. “Even small steps, some accommodations. The body of Christ isn’t all high achievers.” And at West Highland Christian Academy, the body of Christ is seen as a family helping each other.
To learn more about how your school can include students at all levels of ability and disability, visit our website at clcnetwork.org.
Elizabeth Lucas Dombrowski is the advancement director at CLC Network (Christian Learning Center) in Grand Rapids, MI.