Last Sunday I had the opportunity to attend The Rachel Browne Theatre and watch a contemporary dance performance that was created and performed by a couple of students from Knowles Centre. This production under the direction of Nina Patel founder of The Lime Project Dance Company works with many at-risk youth in hope that the participants will be inspired. Patel says “I hope that those who take part will learn something new about themselves and be excited to do something new, to take a risk and be brave in their lives.” The short but powerful production by the two male dancers brought credence to her words. This is the second year The Lime Project partnered with Knowles Centre and through support by the Manitoba and Winnipeg Art Councils this initiatives with Knowles Centre will continue next year
It is projects like this one that truly bring to life the true realities of Inclusion. When I was working for The Special Education Review Initiative and worked with our team on developing Manitoba’s Philosophy of Inclusion it always was more than just Inclusion for students with special needs into the school system. The key statement for me has always been:
Inclusion is a way of thinking and acting that allows every individual to feel accepted, valued, and safe. An inclusive community consciously evolves to meet the changing needs of its members.
It was during that time that we changed our thinking in education from Special Education to Student Services as it was about meeting the needs of all students. When I was President of the Manitoba Council for Exceptional Children I had the opportunity of meeting a young man named ‘Eddie’. Eddie was an amazing young man who shared with me that to him Inclusion was for everyone. He said we need to work hard to include those that just don’t feel they fit in. He gave the examples of those students that sit by themselves every recess or noon hour. What are we doing to include them?
There have been many steps forward in our Inclusion of students with special needs in our province. We certainly are not where we need to be but with books like Dr. Jennifer Katz’s “Teaching to Diversity” where we look at a Universal Design Approach to teaching to our outcomes our journey continues.
My concerns are more from a society standpoint. Our students seem to report more often how they are feeling more judged then ever before. They feel judged on what they wear,what they say and basically everything they do. They are inundated with media messages on how they should dress and if they don’t fit into that small mold that our society is creating they just don’t feel safe, valued or accepted. The rise of mental health issues for youth and adults is alarming. I feel and see an increase in the sexualization of woman in our society. The internet is filled with those images of celebrities and what they wear or what they don’t wear. People become famous for how they look rather than the substance of who they are.
It is why something like The Lime Dance Project is so important. It helps youth ground themselves. Allows them to feel themselves from the inside and not just value themselves on what they look like on the outside. Inclusion has never been about a placement but rather it is about a feeling. A feeling the person gets when they are with us and more importantly a feeling they get inside of themselves. A feeling that tells them they belong, they are important and above all they ‘Make a Difference’.