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Inclusive Education: Helping Students Prepare for Lifelong Success

December 6th, 2021

2021 Inclusive Schools Week Banner.

Inclusive Schools Week (ISW) is an annual international event sponsored by the Inclusive Schools Network and Stetson & Associates, Inc. Held during the first week of December, ISW aims to celebrate the progress that schools have made in providing a supportive and quality education to an increasingly diverse student population.

HCPSS is committed to providing an inclusive, school climate and culture where all students – regardless of disability, gender, socioeconomic status, cultural heritage, language spoken, or any other factors – can thrive. In the classroom and beyond, HCPSS educators help students to value and appreciate each other’s differences and build healthy relationships based on acceptance, understanding, and respect.

In the following Q&A, Marriotts Ridge High School (MRHS) graduate Zach McKay reflects on his experience with inclusive education at HCPSS and how that experience has prepared him for life after graduation.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.

A: I attended Marriotts Ridge High School (class of 2014) and now attend University of Maryland.

I have autism and started school when I was just 18 months old in Early Beginnings. I went to Waverly RECC, then my home schools, Manor Woods and Mount View Middle. I didn’t use words for a long time (it’s still a bit hard for me) and it was really hard to communicate. I wouldn’t eat very many things and had a hard time sleeping. But I worked hard with my teachers and family, and made lots of progress. I walked the graduation stage with my friends in 2014, and then went to HCC for Community Connections. I did Project SEARCH and had a job at Jim Coleman Honda in Clarksville. I worked there for four years. But I always wanted to go to college, just like all my friends. I just got the chance with the new Terps EXCEED program. I am now attending University of Maryland College and take the bus to campus everyday. I eat on campus in the dining halls, take 5 classes and participate in a ton of clubs and activities on campus. I am super proud to be a Terp!

I got the confidence to do these things while I was at Marriotts Ridge. The school gave me the chance to try things and make some mistakes in a safe place. I attended football games, participated in activities and tried things on my own. I didn’t always do it right, but I was given the chance to try and figure out what kind of support I needed. Now I have the confidence to try new things (with and without support).

Zach McKay playing soccer.

Q: What are examples of the types of inclusive experiences you had at HCPSS?

A: I was in general education classes from the time I was in kindergarten all the way through high school. I got to know all of my classmates and they got to know me. I was part of all school activities and really felt like I was part of the Class of 2014. I had a lot of school spirit and played allied sports (soccer, bowling and softball), sang in the Mustang Chorale choir, participated in musical shows, was Homecoming King and voted “most likely to make you smile”. It was great to be part of my class, just like everyone else. No one made me feel different. It was ok to be me. I was really good at some things, like learning new choreography for a show, and it was harder to do other things. But my classmates helped me, showed me what to do, and gave me a chance to be part of the group. I was given one of the Mustang Awards at graduation for representing the spirit of the school.

Q: How did your inclusive experience at HCPSS prepare you for life after graduation?

A: I learned to be prepared for the changes that happen in life. Things don’t always go as planned, but I learned ways to ask for help when I needed it. You can’t predict or teach every single thing or circumstance that might happen, but I learned ways to handle the stress of those moments.

One time my mom dropped me off for choir practice. But I didn’t realize that practice had been cancelled. I had to learn to ask what was going on, and I called my mom. It was scary at first. But it was easier to learn that at MRHS, a place where people knew me and I felt safe, than somewhere else. Now I am not as scared to try new things because I know how to get help when I need it.

My time at MRHS, especially in choir and musicals, gave me the confidence to perform. I love being on stage now. I am in the Men’s Choir and “32 Bars” (musical theatre group) at University of Maryland. I also do theater performances. That is because teachers gave me a chance at MRHS. They let me try and see what I could do when given a chance. They didn’t assume that I couldn’t do it because of my disability. They figured out ways for me to succeed. My theater teacher even said she wished everyone did choreography as well as me.

Learn more about inclusive education at HCPSS. The following activities can help all families to foster discussions about inclusion at home.