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If You Build It, They Will Come!

Thursday, June 07, 2018 by Christie Bonfiglio, Ph.D.

If You Build, They Will ComePhoto Credit: Dmytro Aksonov

As we approach the beginning of summer, we will attend family barbeques, take road trips, and enjoy the sights and sounds of little ones running through sprinklers and eating popsicles. Some of us will volunteer at day camps or put bandaids on scraped knees following tumbles off bicycles. Others will enjoy America’s pastime and cheer on their prized team while enjoying a hot dog and box of Cracker Jacks. Summer is the time for those carefree days and a trip to the ballpark.

In 1989, Kevin Costner played Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella in the classic celebration of baseball, Field of Dreams. One night while in his cornfield, Ray hears a mysterious voice whisper, “If you build it, he will come.” Despite the townspeople’s ridicule that Ray has completely lost his mind, he constructs a baseball diamond on his land. Once the field is complete, Ray is overwhelmed as baseball legends, led by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, emerge mysteriously from the crops bordering the outfield to play their beloved game. As Ray continues to follow the voice’s advice, he learns that his quest is in search of something much more meaningful than bringing baseball players together. Often, our journey is about something greater than our first goals.

“If you build it, he will come.”

"PIE has equipped thousands of educators with the skills to build inclusive classrooms for struggling learners and those with disabilities in Catholic schools."

In June 2014, members of the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) spent three days around a conference room table exploring the many complexities surrounding inclusive education in Catholic schools. We analyzed data, such as the enrollment rates of students with disabilities, survey responses from superintendents regarding the need for and current practices of inclusive education; and the costs and strategic planning associated with inclusion. ACE explored the evidence-based practices and theoretical foundations that would best meet the needs of all learners in the context of Catholic schools. We discussed mission and vision, exploring scripture and Church documents, as well as Catholic Social Teaching.

In the end, the lingering question that filled the space across the table remained...

“If you build it, will they come?”

The Program for Inclusive Education (PIE) was founded on August 1, 2016. Two years and thousands of hours later of clearing the field, installing the pitcher’s mound and home plate, and lining the first and third baselines with chalk, PIE’s field of dreams was complete. It was time for our great players-Catholic educators, to emerge from the crops and swing away.

Yes, we built it! But, will they come?

Just 22 months later, PIE has equipped thousands of educators with the skills to build inclusive classrooms for struggling learners and those with disabilities in Catholic schools. Over 30 on-site professional development sessions at the school and arch(diocesan) levels, workshops, regional and national presentations, keynote addresses, and virtual trainings have impacted the mission of Catholic school inclusion and provided a game plan to effectively serve some of Christ’s most valuable players. PIE welcomed its second cohort of educators last month in its 18-credit hour inclusive educator licensing program–our rookies–and we will mission the first cohort this July following a two-week, on-campus capstone experience–our All-Star Game!

It’s been an amazing season, and we have engaged with many of the “greats” across the country to provide hope for families that all children can be welcomed, served, and celebrated.  And yes–PIE too continues to experience a field of dreams that is much bigger than we ever imagined.

As you embark on the carefree days of summer and take in a baseball game or two, I challenge you to listen to the mysterious voice and clear the field for inclusive education in Catholic schools. Then sit back and watch in awe as your MVPs emerge from the crops and swing away! Because...

If you build it, they will come!