The Program for Inclusive Education is privileged to partner with many amazing educators and organizations across the country that support and advocate for inclusion in Catholic schools. It is my privilege to welcome Beth Foraker, the founder of the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion, as a guest author. Her tenacity and dedication to this mission extends across the country, and she has impacted so many families and schools with her gifts. It is a blessing to share her words, and PIE is grateful to serve alongside her!
~Christie Bonfiglio, Ph.D.; Director of the Program for Inclusive Education
It takes a special kind of person to be first. It’s so much easier to lean back and wait for others to lead the way…so much nicer to walk a path that already has a foot trail. When you are first, you live through the glitches and the inevitable bumps in the road. You don’t know the answers. You immerse yourself in the questions.
You’ve never done this before...so it feels uncomfortable.
You’re not sure.
You question yourself.
People who try things first have two unique qualities.
First, they are brave. The people who try something first must go against the regular, ordinary, predictable way and work to try something new. They own their ideas enough to stand up and go for it. Their personal courage is a guide for all of us. It is a reminder that the good stuff is always outside of our comfort zone.
Secondly, they are full of hope. You don’t go out of your way, trying something new, busting through stereotypes, and making history unless you have a serious reserve of hope stashed away.
Bravery + Hope = Results
This past summer, I had the joy of meeting the brave, hopeful, and visionary educators that made up the very first cohort of PIE at the University of Notre Dame. These Catholic school teachers were from all over the country, including Hawaii. They willingly signed on to a full year of intensive coursework about inclusive education while simultaneously being a full-time teacher.
Who does that?
Exceptional people...people willing to be first.
Meeting these amazing teachers, my own bravery was renewed....my own hope restored.
Being first can be a lonely experience, especially when you are asking your school to try something new. Therein lies the genius of PIE. Having a cohort of companions makes the road less traveled not so lonely. PIE’s unique format asks educators to take a year’s worth of online coursework. The teachers work online collaboratively and get to know each other virtually, but they don’t meet until the last two weeks of the program. Scattered across the country are these incredible teachers working to be inclusive on their own. Their hope and bravery propels them and after a year, they finally get to meet in person.
With so many schools struggling to become more inclusive, meeting others who are like-minded and passionate about Catholic school inclusion is affirming and energizing. And it turns out that bravery and hope are contagious.
I like to think of inclusive Catholic educators as rainbow unicorns. God’s grace effuses from them. Their passion, kindness and advocacy are examples for us all.
These 12 exceptional educators chose to be FIRST. They understood the urgency for Catholic schools to WELCOME all learners...and to go further…to SERVE all learners...to CELEBRATE all learners. They said YES.
That YES changes everything. It cracks open your heart. It fortifies you for the long haul. It sustains you during the darkness.
These teachers found a way to be inclusive...in regular, ordinary Catholic schools. Their compassion and passion for their students was humbling to see. Over and over again, they asked hard questions. They listened intently and encouraged each other. They worked to understand how to best support their students.
I left Notre Dame uplifted and changed by these teachers. Their bravery, their hope, and their determination made me more committed than ever to the good work of inclusion in Catholic schools.
PIE 1 scattered 12 seeds of bravery and hope, love and faith into Catholic schools around the country. I have no doubt that these 12 people will impact and influence their schools in profound ways...their work connected and woven together...moving from just one teacher in an isolated classroom to an US.
Together, PIE 1 will move us all further toward the Revolution of Tenderness that Pope Francis speaks so joyfully about in his TED Talk, “Why the Only Future Worth Building Includes Everyone.” There, he calls for equality, solidarity, and tenderness to prevail.
Thank you to the Program for Inclusive Education and the educators of PIE 1 for your courage to say “yes!” May each of us find our way to become an US.
Applications for the next cohort of inclusive educators are now open!