The Program for Inclusive Education (PIE) is pleased to introduce you to our new associate director, Abby Giroux! I am blessed to welcome one of our own to the PIE Team. Abby has advocated for inclusive education, lived inclusive education, and now is helping us form inclusive educators. Her gifts will enhance program coordination and our mission, while her sweet spirit will embrace Catholic educators who seek to welcome, serve, and celebrate all students! Please read a bit about her journey and help me welcome Abby to the PIE team!
~Christie Bonfiglio, Ph.D.; Director of the Program for Inclusive Education
Over the past six years, many people have asked me, “why PIE?”
My response to that question has changed slightly over the years. I created a PBIS professional development plan as a school leader, then requested funding so I could be a member of the second cohort of PIE, and then joined the PIE team as associate director. As I reflect on this journey, I am thankful for the many people and events that have helped me down this path of continued growth.
As a Teacher
As a middle school math and science teacher, I met three students who helped me think differently about my classroom and my own teaching practices. One student taught me about the importance of dignity, especially for those struggling with a new diagnosis impacting their learning. Another taught me about myself and some of my own learner variability while researching better ways to understand and address his unique learning needs. The third student sparked my ongoing interest in social-emotional learning. Working with these students, I was introduced to Response to Intervention, a framework developed to better serve the needs of all students, and I learned the value of collaborating with colleagues and family members. During this time as a general educator, I didn’t think inclusion was part of my job. However, I encountered many students with different academic, behavioral, and social emotional needs, and I spent a lot of time those first 12 years learning about and practicing differentiation.
As a Leader
I moved into a leadership role at a new school and began to consider what it meant to support all learners as a school leader. After my first year with a new team of teachers, I got feedback that teachers were interested in focusing on behavior expectations. Therefore, my initial contact with PIE was an inquiry about professional development focused on behavior, and I was introduced to Dr. Christie Bonfiglio. Rather than a simple August session of professional development, we were able to establish an ongoing partnership that allowed my school to learn about Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and receive guidance as we worked to update our building expectations. More importantly, we accessed ongoing training and coaching for teachers.
While we worked as a school team to develop our own PBIS framework, I was also gaining new insights into establishing school-wide systems of support. I was blessed to work alongside another Remick Leader who believes that Catholic schools can and should welcome all. We began welcoming more diverse learners into our school community, and we worked with our teachers to create appropriate learning plans. As I transitioned out of full-time teaching, I saw the difference between simply welcoming and enrolling a family into our school community, and truly taking the time as a leader to invest in equipping teachers with the resources they need to confidently work with the large range of learners within each of their classrooms. No longer was it just me reading about, planning for, and welcoming students with Tourette Syndrome, autism, or social-emotional needs in my own classroom. Now I needed to work with my team to make sure that together we could truly say and mean “welcome” to those who wanted to be a part of our school community – so I applied to join the second cohort of PIE.
During my first summer with PIE, my godmother asked me why I was taking classes to add a special education certification as a principal. As a building-level administrator, I wanted to do three things: build systems and supports within my school that would allow teachers and students to flourish in diverse classrooms, gain enough content knowledge to know what to look for in people and resources as we built an inclusive school community, and understand inclusive teaching practices to evaluate our progress, set goals for continued growth, and intentionally work toward building a more inclusive Catholic school community.
As I reflect on my own journey and growth, I couldn’t be prouder of the growth my team made over the past six years, especially successes during the 2020-21 school year. In addition to the new COVID protocols that we had to learn, our teachers found ways to connect with students who needed remote learning options. We also welcomed new students with learning needs that we had not worked with previously into our community. Moreover, we graduated a class that is an example of how an inclusive community can help all of its members grow. From the student that started high school this fall having completed Algebra I and II, geometry and pre-calculus, to the family that sent a joyously tearful message at Christmas to share that their dream of their daughter being accepted to a Catholic high school had been realized (see their story here), and everyone else in between, the past year was miraculous.
To PIE Associate Director
Much as I didn’t anticipate moving into Catholic school leadership, I hadn’t considered a job in education outside of a Catholic elementary or secondary school setting. God has a funny way of putting individuals and experiences in our path to help us grow. So when I was asked “why PIE?”again this past summer as I prepared to join the PIE team, I reflected on the students that have pushed me to grow the most and helped make me the teacher I am today. I also thought back on the PBIS process and inclusion journey that started in my most recent school community and colleagues there that helped me to grow as a leader. I have fond memories of the people and experiences that have inspired within me a passion for inclusion in Catholic schools. There is much yet to learn, for both me and for my former school communities. But my time with PIE so far has shown me that there are many schools across the country at very different points on this same journey, and they need support as well.
The first thing I placed on the shelf in my office is a visual reminder of Jesus’s call in Matthew 19 to “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them.” I am hopeful that I can draw on my own experience welcoming students with diverse learning needs as I talk to teachers struggling to support their learners and principals seeking to build systems of support for their teachers. In this new role as associate director of PIE, I am committed to exploring how we can support schools and dioceses around the country in building and strengthening Multi-Tiered Systems of Support. And, as my most recent graduating eighth-grade class tackles their freshman year of high school, I dare to dream about the opportunities around the corner for them four years from now and how PIE might continue to support them and all of their peers in their learning journeys. These dreams are big and not going to be easy, but we can do hard things! It starts by letting the children come and embracing the journey of growth and community that will be set in our path.
Looking to continue your own journey of inclusion?