Martine Romero and St. Madeleine Sophie School: Creating Ways to Include Students
Martine and St. Madeleine Sophie welcome anyone who would like to call or visit to learn more about their open philosophy and how they effectively include all students. Please visit the school website at https://smsbellevue.org/ or call 425-747-6770.
Martine Romero knows that St. Madeleine Sophie Catholic School is a special place. Though the parish has been in Bellevue, Washington for almost fifty years, the school itself is only eleven years old. When the school was founded, Fr. James Picton, the pastor of St. Madeleine Sophie wanted to create a school that was open to economic, ethnic, and academic diversity. Today, the teachers at St. Madeleine Sophie don’t see the school as a special education or inclusive school; instead, they use what they call an open philosophy. They welcome students of every kind−gifted students, students with specific learning needs, students who have profound needs and students with physical needs. Of St. Madeleine Sophie’s 205 students, seventy have a learning support plan, whether for a gifted or specific learning need. The school has fifty-six ELL students, as well as students with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, and students who are already working at a high school level. Martine and St. Madeleine Sophie work to create a warm and caring community that provides the best education for every single child and family.
Martine, the school’s vice principal, has worked at St. Madeleine Sophie for seven years, but she has known since fifth grade that she wanted to be a Catholic school principal. That year, after her parents gave her the chance to be “Principal for the Day” through the school auction, Martine discovered she loved the sense of family and the feeling that everyone’s gifts were celebrated as an important part of the community. In her education through Catholic high school, university, and the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, Martine has promoted that mission of inclusivity. Her experience with the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program grounded her work in the Gospel: as they dove into the documents of the Church and learned about the history of Catholic schools, she came to truly appreciate that the mission of educating all children is foundational to being a Catholic school leader. As Pope Francis says, teachers “aim to build an educational relationship with each student, who must feel accepted and loved for who he or she is, with all of his or her limitations and potential,” and Martine has made her home at St. Madeleine Sophie while trying to showcase the truth of that statement.
In her years as teacher, inclusion director and now vice principal, Martine has come to realize just how important it is for families to feel welcome at Catholic schools. At St. Madeleine Sophie, she helps families realize that every single one of their children can feel included while receiving a strong academic education. Martine sees the school’s complete commitment to its open philosophy as the most important aspect of its success. At St. Madeleine Sophie, teachers don’t pull students out of the classroom or have a separate resource room. Instead, they push resources into the classroom. The school works as one community to teach and help each student in every way rather than using a separate inclusion or special education department.
The leaders and teachers at St. Madeleine Sophie deliberately welcome each student by teaching and fostering empathy in their classrooms. Martine sees how the children quickly become knowledgeable, accepting and welcoming of every person in the classroom as they realize that everyone needs something special in the classroom. Often, Martine says, the children are the most creative at creating ways to include each other. In the fourth-grade classroom this year, the students devised a communication system to interact with one of their non-verbal classmates. Martine says that every grade has stories showing how the students have come to see each other’s abilities rather than disabilities.
The administration also hires teachers with its mission as center focus: they look for faith-filled teachers and leaders with general and special education backgrounds and develop those teachers with constant professional development. Each year, Martine says, is different; students may have the same diagnosis or need, but each child is an individual and learns in his or her own way. With this in mind, St. Madeleine Sophie changes and adjusts its curriculum and methods to best help the individual students in the classrooms.
Martine is now seeing some of the long-term success of the school’s work. Her first class of second-graders are now eighth-graders, and just this week they received their acceptance letters to the local Catholic high schools. For Martine, it was the joyous end of so many steps. She had worked with these students to find the best ways for them to study, for the best therapists for those who needed one, and for the best high school to fit their needs. Now these students embraced the next level of Catholic education. As she watched these jubilant eighth-graders and their families, she could see this moment as proof that Catholic schools can and should embrace all students, no matter their abilities or needs.
Interested in becoming an inclusive educator like Martine? Visit the Program for Inclusive Education at ace.nd.edu/inclusion and apply to be a part of our inaugural cohort of inclusive educators!