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VISTA Guest Posts: Working on Inclusion

 

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I am an AmeriCorps VISTA who is serving at the Maryland Disability Law Center. The last two months as a VISTA at Maryland Disability Law Center have been a grand learning experience. Maryland Disability Law center is non-profit 501c3 that serves as Maryland’s Protection and Advocacy agency. Part of our mission and vision at MDLC includes providing free legal services to Marylanders of any age with a variety of disabilities. These can include developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, physical, sensory, learning disabilities and traumatic brain injury. You can read more about MDLC’s mission here.

 

One of MDLC’s focus areas includes advocacy for educational rights of youth with disabilities. Currently, my supervisor, Pat Halle, and I are working on a project that aims to increase opportunities for low-income youth with disabilities to participate safely and effectively in Out of School time programs in Baltimore City. Our goal is to work closely with 20 out of school time programs who want to become models of inclusive practice.

 

Inclusion is basically when children with and without disabilities are integrated together, specifically in the classroom, learning setting and community. Children of all abilities benefit and learn more when they are taught in an inclusive environment. However, it is important that every student receives the support and reasonable accommodations that are designed for them to succeed in an inclusive environment. You can read more about inclusion here.

 

Thus far, we have recruited 13 Out of school time programs in Baltimore City. These programs range from local neighborhood afterschool programs to national after school organizations. We have helped arrange training on inclusion and create student logs to track the progress, accommodations and goals of students in the OST programs. One of the highlights of my service was speaking at Coppin State University about Inclusion. It was wonderful to be able to meet and interact with the different people and to learn more about the important that work that is being done surrounding inclusion.

 

The OST/inclusion work we are doing is significant because studies have shown that students who are in after-school and summer programs tend to perform better in school and have better school attendance. Recently, Open Society Institute funded a study on chronic absence in Baltimore City and based off of this study, we know that youth with disabilities are overrepresented in being chronically absent from school. We also know that youth with disabilities are underrepresented in Out of School Time programs. We want to bridge the disconnection between Out of School Time and attendance by increasing the opportunities for youth with disabilities to participate in OST programs in a safe, inclusive environment.

 

Overall, inclusion is about human rights. We want every child to have the opportunity to learn, we want to improve attendance outcomes for youth with disabilities and above all, we want every child to feel accepted and welcomed as an individual. By working with 20 Out of School time programs on this journey toward inclusion, we hope that by this time next year, 20 Out of School Time programs will have laid a foundation for inclusion in OST and society overall.

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