The Program for Inclusive Education is grateful for the many dedicated educators that support and advocate for inclusion in Catholic schools. It is my privilege to welcome Michael Fisher and Ginny McMillan from John Carroll Catholic High School in Birmingham, Alabama, as guest authors. Michael and Ginny were members of the PIE 2 cohort, and here they share their experience and the value of participating together. Thank you, Michael and Ginny, for your tireless efforts towards inclusive education!
~Christie Bonfiglio, Ph.D.; Director of the Program for Inclusive Education
John Carroll Catholic High School (JCCHS) calls its students, faculty, and parents into an active partnership for learning. The school embraces a deeper sense of conviction that faith in God can bring about a just world. JCCHS strives to develop the whole person through spiritual growth, academics, the arts, athletics, and discipline in the context of a Christ-centered environment. Given this mission, inclusion aligns nicely.
Academic counselor Ginny McMillan knew she, and her school, could do more to foster true inclusion. In the spring of 2018, Ginny considered applying to PIE. However, she knew her “yes” would be more effective if she was joined by another teacher from the school. Michael Fisher, the English/language arts teacher hesitantly agreed, and they began their journey to bring inclusive practice to JCCHS.
Ginny and Michael reflect on inclusion, their convictions, and how joint participation in PIE benefitted them and the community they serve.
Inclusion and John Carroll Catholic School
As Catholics, we welcome all to the table of the Lord. However, our schools have been limited in their ability and willingness to serve all students. First, we are limited by fear. The fear of the unknown can often prevent progress. Questions such as “What if it doesn’t work? What if we run into a glitch? What if we do not know enough to help?” have stopped administrators and pastors from moving forward.
People also fear failure. Many enter the field of education in order to make a difference in students’ lives. They have the desire to succeed and help students learn. Catholic educators may be prevented from opening the doors to include all because of their own fears of failing those students. If they accept students who do not have the same measures of success, the educator may feel that they have failed. In my diocese, these fears have limited schools from opening their doors to all.
When I was approached to apply to PIE, I knew we had to overcome these fears and say “yes” to trying. However, I also knew I couldn’t do it alone. I knew I needed to find a teacher in my building who believed in Catholic education for all. Convincing Michael to join the program wasn’t easy, but I knew he was the right fit. Like me, he had grown up in Catholic schools, graduated from John Carroll just as I did, and planned to dedicate his life to this school. Just like me, he wanted to see the doors open for all students.
Without a doubt, inclusion is a team effort. Christ models collaboration for us through His calling of the apostles. Christ certainly could have spread the faith on His own, but he shows us that things are best done through collaboration. This is why I am so glad to have had someone else at my school to help me experience PIE. My journey with PIE began when Ginny approached me about this program through Notre Dame to learn about inclusion. At first, I was a bit unsure because I had never really learned how to work with students with special needs, and I felt as though I’d be a little out of my comfort zone. After a couple of days, I agreed to enter into this process with Ginny.
PIE Shared Together
Michael and I talked weekly about our work in PIE. We were able to create our own learning community in our building. We bounced ideas off of each other, talked about how the lessons applied in our school, and helped each other when the tasks felt daunting. Having a colleague in the building also helped validate the program to our coworkers. We work in different parts of education – Michael is an English teacher and I provide academic support as well as being the assistant athletic director – so we were able to show the other faculty members that inclusion comes throughout the entire building. Collaboration is key to success, so being part of PIE and also able to collaborate with someone down the hall made the classwork more manageable and the discussions more applicable.
Looking back, I’m not sure how I would have persevered without having the support of another teacher in my school. Not only did Ginny help me to see the importance of this mission in our school, but she also helped to encourage me when I felt as though I was struggling with the challenges of learning to be an inclusive educator. Having another teacher from my school also helped me to see things from a different perspective. Because Ginny and I have different roles at the school, we both saw different issues and different strengths. This helped us to really consider the needs of our school and diocese as we move forward. I would encourage all educators to 1) apply to PIE and 2) recruit a colleague! As the saying goes, it takes a village. Having another teacher from your school enter into this program with you is the first step to getting your whole “village” on board and moving toward full inclusion.
The Program for Inclusive Education (PIE) welcomes your application for its fourth cohort. We understand the importance of community and so we build it nationally throughout our programming. By the program’s end, we will stand united in the advocacy of ALL students attending Catholic schools and realize that we have lifelong colleagues to support our inclusive efforts.
Consider applying to PIE 4 and recruit a colleague. Build the village at your school!