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Inclusion Column

Inclusion Assistants: Much More than a Job

By: Ana Paula Villarreal
 

As we move toward inclusion becoming the norm at ASFM, Inclusion Assistants are proud and grateful to work as the professionals that facilitate this reality daily. At ASFM and other inclusive schools worldwide, some of the students being welcomed require one-on-one assistance to best meet their academic, social, medical, behavioral, and other needs. This has resulted in a demand for qualified professionals that can meet the needs of their students, facilitate their learning, advocate for them and ensure their inclusion at school. The Inclusion Assistant role, sometimes known as a paraprofessional, shadow teacher, pedagogist or inclusion facilitator, is a fundamental part of success for all students.

We know the key to student success in schools depends on the professional practice of the educators, not on the individual characteristics of students. With this, we can appreciate that the more empowered Inclusion Assistants are, the higher the quality of support all students will receive, and consequently, the more successful inclusion will be. Inclusion Assistants at ASFM participate in weekly meetings designed for professional growth, personal reflection, and feedback. Beside helping coordinate inclusion awareness activities, we join the members of the Student Success Team in planning interventions to encourage our students’ growth in various areas and play a key role in the implementation and tracking of these practices. It is important to highlight that we are not our students’ ‘shadows’, but rather we work to facilitate their independence, collaborate with other teachers, and support many other students in classrooms to encourage natural inclusion. At ASFM, we’re proud to be Inclusion Assistants, we consider it rewarding to have the chance to make a meaningful impact everyday and to witness the many accomplishments of our students.

Personally, I believe Inclusion Assistants are the unsung heroes of any inclusive school. As IAs, we problem-solve, we modify and accommodate, pre-teach, teach & reteach, we track students’ progress, we care for students, we push and motivate them, we encourage them & we celebrate with them. We may work with students that are often misunderstood, yet we see potential and growth where others may struggle to identify it. From 8am to 3pm, we are our student’s primary ally and fiercest advocate. We are lucky to wear many hats in our daily work: cheerleaders, teachers, caregivers, lawyers, therapists and data analysts. Every single day, we try hard to dismantle barriers and obstacles and are fortunate to witness milestones and small successes daily.

In this role, we’ve grown both personally and professionally. Our whole perspective changed as we learned to make generous hypotheses, support diverse needs, disregard labels, use inclusive language and speak up for inclusion in all contexts. We’ve learned to judge less and understand more. In my experience, being an Inclusion Assistant has been so much more than a job. The significance of the role goes beyond what many imagine. We are promoting all children’s right to an equitable education, we are uplifting a group that is often undermined, and most importantly, we represent a movement: a shift toward a more inclusive world for everyone.

To all ASFM Inclusion Assistants, and any others fulfilling this role at other schools, I know our role is often belittled, but I hope that regardless of what anybody thinks, you’re proud of yourself. I hope you know the tremendous value of your work, and that your daily efforts are making an impact. I hope that even though you might be tired and overwhelmed, you‘re satisfied to know that you make a difference every single day. Victoria, Dany, and Isabela, your student’s success and inclusion at ASFM would not be the same without you. Thank you for being your students’ champions and such strong advocates for inclusion.