Monday, March 26, 2012

Inclusion.

In the context of school what does it mean?

I have been thinking about this for quite a while (probably since my 3rd grader started kindergarten), but especially this week.  This week our school is having an Inclusion Week.  My children are fortunate to attend a public school that is committed to trying to create a welcoming environment for children with all kinds of strengths and challenges.

Food Allergies and Children
For Inclusion Week, children made squares indicating what makes them unique; then they were joined into classroom quilts.
I applaud the efforts of the parent volunteers of our Inclusion Committee and our school leaders to focus attention on how we can create an inclusive school community.

How does all of this work when the challenge your child faces is food allergies?

I have written here about concerns about food in the classroom and safety.  Inclusion is a slightly different matter.

If a child is allergic to dairy or is gluten-intolerant, how does he or she feel when a classroom reward for good behavior or achieving a fund-raising goal is a pizza party?  How different would they feel if it was a movie day or extra gym time or playground time?

If children fundraise by having bake sales or selling candy, how does that make the child feel for whom those foods are dangerous?  How might they feel if they were selling non-food items instead?

Why not make a log cabin out of craft sticks and glue instead of pretzels and frosting? 


Every time a family of a food-allergic child has to decide whether to speak up that an activity puts their child at risk or has to bring an alternative when there is food in class highlights the child's challenges and can make that child feel different (maybe not quite so included).

If the family does speak up and request an alternate activity, how does that make the child and his classmates feel when the other classes are enjoying a "treat" that they are denied?  Will the other children in class hope not to be with the food-allergic child in the future, so that they can still have the "treat?"

With food-allergy rates for children around 1 in 12 children, or 2 per classroom, I urge school communities to rethink inclusion as it impacts children with food allergies.  Sometimes food is a necessary part of education.  When it's not, or when there's an easy alternative, we can create a more-inclusive environment for many of our children by sticking with something else.  

I shared this post with Allergy Friendly Fridays and Allergy Free Wednesdays.

Happy Cooking!
Kim

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3 comments:

  1. I think about this often. I pulled my gluten free child out of a private school after being told it was not the responsibility of the teachers to make sure he had a safe environment to eat lunch. They "can't control the other kids".

    Their suggestion was that he eat in the office with the secretary by himself for the remainder of the year as a way to "learn to self manage his condition".

    We were appalled by these suggestions and it was quite clear the school was not able to adequately meet his needs, but I think the fact that inclusion was such a low priority for him when it is such a high priority in general was very heart wrenching for me as a mom.

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  2. Heidi,
    That just breaks my heart! I hope that you have found more welcoming communities for your son. As more and more people have to live with these challenges, I think that society will change in its thinking, too. It's just hard to wait when your little loved one is hurting right now.

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  3. I couldn't agree more!! 2 of my 3 daughters have multiple food allergies, as well as, environmental...so I know this territory all too well.

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