This year the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board celebrates the 50th anniversary of Each Belongs, a model of inclusive education that supports the full integration of students with special education needs into mainstream neighbourhood schools.
While many people today wouldn’t remember schools before Each Belongs the decision to move to an inclusionary model of education was considered quite revolutionary at the time. For the school board, it was less about challenging the practices of the day, and more about finding a way to meet the educational needs of all students, regardless of their special talents or challenging needs. Thanks to the conviction and leadership of former Director of Education Patrick Brennan, former Superintendent, the late Jim Hansen, and a visionary Board of Trustees, the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board became the first school board in Canada to adopt the Each Belongs inclusive education philosophy.
Today, more than 2,300 students with special education needs attend our Catholic schools and are a rich and important part of our school system.
Asked several years ago why the board decided to go in this direction, Jim Hansen – one of the chief architects of Each Belongs – responded, “Why wouldn’t we?” That’s because Jim believed, as all Christians believe, that every child is created in the unique image of God. The term Each Belongs in fact came from the Special Services Committee report of 1969, in which Jim wrote: “Each Belongs not because he/she can do something or cannot do something; Each Belongs because he or she is.”
Each Belongs is premised on the understanding that children grow best when they are able to attend neighbourhood schools along with their brothers and sisters. Integrated classrooms not only provide students with exceptionalities the opportunity to develop social skills and enjoy a full range of educational, social and recreational experiences but enrich the lives of other students as well.
Today, more than 2,300 students with special education needs attend our Catholic schools and are a rich and important part of our school system. However, perhaps the greater legacy of Each Belongs is that over the past 50 years, the term has broadened to represent diversity in all of its many forms at the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School. And that is a very good thing.