When we think of education, our minds tend to go to academics and grades. While these are indeed important components, social and emotional skills are equally valuable. Inclusion, a term that you may frequently hear or read about in conversations and articles, describes the practices that create an environment where all students feel socially and emotionally safe.
We know that teens thrive in a community where they feel they belong, are not judged, are respected, and are listened to actively. There are many benefits to students attending a school that facilitates an inclusive learning environment.
Students appreciate the importance of being an individual. High school is a time when teens are trying to work through two critical components of development that may feel in competition: a strong sense of self vs. how to fit in. For some, these two processes go together quite well; their interests align with those of their peers.
For other young people, who decide to take the “road less traveled,” this can be a real challenge. An inclusive environment is structured to help students get to know each other, provide diverse options for learning, and encourage self-expression. Students learn to feel safe enough to explore and author their identity.
Students learn to work across their differences. They become comfortable with, even embrace, diversity. As technology continues to facilitate the process of the world feeling smaller, successfully working with those who are different from you is becoming an increasingly important skill. Schools that focus on creating an inclusive environment gives students the tools they need to collaborate with people both similar and dissimilar from themselves.
Having small class and cohort sizes allow students to get to know each other personally. This leaves little room for making assumptions or stereotypes. Having a diverse student body allows “difference” to be the norm; differences are appreciated as much as commonalities.
Inclusion leaves little space for bullying. Creating an environment where celebrating difference is the norm is incompatible with bullying and cliques. Bullying often occurs when a student is in some way different from the majority of their peers, and the bully feels empowered to tease that student about their differences. Celebrating everyone’s identity makes it much harder for bullying behavior to occur.
Students strengthen their social and emotional intelligence. Skills such as empathy, understanding different points of view, and social problem solving are often used in an inclusive school environment. Consistently practicing these skills and getting support and guidance on how to engage with others in a positive manner helps reinforce good social habits that will carry into adulthood. Inclusion allows for the creation of a vibrant educational environment where all students can thrive.
The best private high schools in DC are those that can “walk the talk” on inclusivity. Their students meet academic expectations on a regular basis and have higher graduation rates than schools that do not promote inclusion as a priority. Students reap the benefits of inclusive spaces during their high-school years long after they graduate high school. They become responsible and engaged citizens.