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The Road to Inclusion

Patti O'Donnell, PIE 2 - Principal, St. Patrick Catholic School in Malvern, PA


The Program for Inclusive Education (PIE) is pleased to include educators (teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, etc.) in the 18-credit hour program. Any educator who would like to learn about serving ALL students inclusively is welcome. Patti O'Donnell is a member of the PIE 2 cohort and the principal of St. Patrick Catholic School-a blue ribbon Catholic school in Malvern, Pennsylvania. She has a heart for inclusive education and has transformed her school. Patti serves as the guest author for PIE's February 2021 blog. Thank you, Patti, for your tireless efforts and good works as you welcome, serve, and celebrate ALL students at St. Pat's!

~Christie Bonfiglio, Ph.D.; Director of the Program for Inclusive Education

"The Road to Emmaus," an 1877 painting by Robert Zund. Public Domain.


"Were not our hearts burning within us?" (Luke 24:32)

The Gospel story of the Road to Emmaus is a familiar story — the first of three outlining Christ's resurrection appearances. Two men are traveling days after the crucifixion when a third man draws near. Together they walk and discuss the life of Jesus of Nazareth and contemplate how He may be alive, given the empty tomb. When they sit down for supper, the two men recognize the third as Jesus when He breaks and blesses the bread. Jesus vanishes shortly thereafter, and the others return to proclaim that the Lord has risen!    

In this familiar story, Jesus and the two disciples participate in a few important things together. First, they walk and accompany one another. Second, they dialogue. Third, they listen to each other. Finally, they share a meal. It is during this meal that their eyes are opened — their hearts are on fire — and they rush to tell the Apostles that they have seen the Lord.

My experience with the Program for Inclusive Education (PIE) in many ways reflects the experience of the two Emmaus disciples. 

pattiodonnellThe Walk and the Company

I was nervous to begin the journey with PIE. But once I began, I never looked back! Learning from educators around the country, who brought many different experiences and worked with many different student populations, was invaluable. This enabled me to bring vital, real-life lessons to my faculty when we met in our Student Support Team meetings. 

The Walk and the Company also included top-notch, dedicated, and passionate professors with years of teaching, research, and practical resources. Universal Design for Learning, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, and many other specific programs to improve students' math and reading skills, too numerous to mention here, are now part of my administrator toolbox.


Given the hybrid experience (especially the early online portions), communication was key. Evidence-based practices were presented and discussed in our coursework and implemented in our classrooms. PIE participants were required to dialogue through professional learning communities and with a Peace of the PIE prayer partner. Professional communication was integral, yet community building was well-integrated and our cohort built relationships prior to the on campus experience because of our conversations.

Throughout the program, every professor encouraged us to call or email if we had any questions, needed help, advice, or guidance. Building these small communities of learning within the program allowed for real sharing and support — and some life-long friendships! 


After listening to this call from the Lord, I begged Him to help me listen to everything that was being shared and taught to me. There was so much to take in, and I was specifically focused on the research-based instructional strategies — a key component to a successful inclusive program. Vanderbilt University IRIS Center Peabody College was one great online resource introduced. It is my go-to website and resource for instructional videos and teaching materials. I would have never known about this goldmine without PIE!


In addition to sharing information, we also shared many meals together while on campus. This is how we continued building our community relationships. We had formal dinners and daily gatherings, snacks in between classes and special dessert nights, both as a community and in smaller groups. While on the Notre Dame campus, it seemed like we ate a lot! However, it was during these community times that we learned more about each other and shared personal stories about our families, worries, and laughter.


Eyes Opened and Hearts on Fire!

The Program for Inclusive Education has changed our school. It has helped me as a principal to begin to shift our culture with the parish, board, parents, teachers, and students. St. Patrick's Catholic School can confidently say that we are an inclusive Catholic school and are working to say yes to any family and student who wishes a Catholic education. 

I encourage all Catholic educators, and especially administrators or those in leadership roles, to strongly consider this program. Open the door and dream big. Overcome your fears and open yourself to the incredible knowledge and experience of the PIE team. Work hard, and celebrate and embrace the journey.

Join PIE and get ready to WELCOME-SERVE-CELEBRATE!

Applications for our next cohort of Inclusive Educators are open! 

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