Each year, the Governor’s Council on Disabilities & Special Education awards its Inclusive Practice Award to one or more educators who work to ensure students experiencing disabilities have the opportunity to be included in school activities. Nominations for the award are made by parents, students and educators to recognize the outstanding efforts of those around the state who provide positive learning environments for students experiencing disabilities and their peers.
The 2017 winner of the Inclusive Practice Award is the Service High School Partners Club in Anchorage. The Service High School Partners Club, created in 2001, is made up of 30 students with intellectual disabilities, eight staff members, 72 peer teachers, and 100 partners who work together on educational goals, life skills activities, and community inclusion. Led by life skills and special education teacher Adam Ahonen, the Partners Club works to develop activities that both promote awareness and inclusion of all students.
The Partners Club has a coffee shop and a Special Olympics group, and also works with multiple sports teams. Observers and participants say the Partners Club has encouraged a school culture at Service High where students with disabilities are actively included in school assemblies, drama productions, choir, prom and dances, sporting events, and after school activities.
Ahonen says the club also participates in community events, such as entering the Fur Rondy snow sculpting competition. This spring, he is excited about the chance for Partners Club members to participate in track and field.
“Alaska is the first state to have a unified sporting event, involving both special education and regular curriculum students, that is recognized and sanctioned by the state’s school activities organization,” he said. “That’s exciting. The most important part of this for me is seeing that Partners Club is a catalyst for social inclusion and enhancing the overall community in our schools.”
Rachel Robinson, a Partners Club member with Down syndrome, said that she loves the activities she gets to take part in, including floor hockey, bowling, skiing, basketball and cheerleading.
“I was the captain for cheerleading for hockey,” she said.
Service High School also offers a related elective class in which students in the general education population can sign up to act as peer teachers for students experiencing disabilities in the life skills program.
Erica Christopherson is one of those peer teachers. She accompanies Rachel and her classmates experiencing disabilities while they carry out basic jobs around school — washing dishes in the cafeteria or shredding papers in the office — and guides them while they complete their daily journal entries.
Although Christopherson works with the Partners Club for school credit, she also spends a lot of her own time there, simply because she enjoys it.
“Mr. A’s room is always open and welcoming,” she said. “I’m in here almost every day at lunch, just hanging out with the students and the other peer teachers. It’s a lot of fun.”
In 2015, Play Every Day created a video public service announcement focused on the importance of daily physical activity for children of all abilities. Congratulations to the Partners Club and other nominees for the 2017 Inclusive Practice Award for putting that goal into action.
Below is the complete list of nominees for the Governor’s Council on Disabilities & Special Education 2017 Inclusive Practice Award. Congratulations to all nominees for their important work educating and supporting Alaska children of all abilities.
• Monique Christiansen: Intensive Needs Program, Palmer Junior Middle School, Palmer
• Deb Evensen: FASD educator and consultant, Homer
• Gail Greenhalagh: Alaska Transition Outcomes Project (ATOP) Coordinator, SERRC, Juneau
• Jennifer Hilder and Pam Penrose: Teachers and mentors, Craig Elementary and Craig Middle School, Craig
• Hope School Team: Patricia Truesdell, Sandra Barron, Diane Olthuis, Eugene, Moseley, and Sara Fortin, Hope
• Pauline Johnson: Paraprofessional, Angoon Elementary, Angoon
• Lisa Kelzenberg: Adaptive Physical Education Teacher, Eagle River High School, Eagle River
• Robyn Meyer: Pre-school teacher, Northwood ABC Elementary, Anchorage
• Nikolaevsk School Instructional Team: Robanne Stading, Jared Copeland, Kelli Hickman, Steve Klaich, Heather Pancratz, Krista Parrett, Michael Sellers, and Jeri Trail, Nikolaevsk
• Paul Banks Elementary Special Education Department: Ray Archuleta, Stephanie Fain, Melissa Gersdorf, Mindy Hunter, Monica Glenn, Donna Sander, Amy Sundheim, Melissa Arno, Vicki Berney, Daniel Bunker, Bobby Copeland-McKinney, Luke Eckert, Anna Germundson, Noreen O’Brien-Dugan, Jennifer Poss, Katy Rice, and Kristi Wickstrom, Homer
• Katherine Pittman: Special Education teacher, Glacier Valley Elementary, Juneau
• Amanda Rugg: Structured Learning Classroom teacher, Bowman Elementary, Anchorage
• Sally Stockhausen: Teacher and team leader, Kayhi High School, Ketchikan
• Tri-Valley School Team: JoHanna Sesito, Bonny Hamm and Angelica Hayes, Ivana Haverlikova, Natile Brandt, Erinn Martin, Jennifer Hancock, Sarah Walker, Jody Stamps and Danielle Talerico, Healy
• Christine Zelinsky: Department Chair and Brandy Jones, Steven Odom, Tracie Ashman, and Anne Paley, Dimond High School, Anchorage