School’s beautiful act for wheelchair-bound student
THURINGOWA State High School was not going to let student Geordy Barsa's wheelchair stop her from performing in their play.
The school built a ramp on to the stage especially for her so she could play her part.
The school prides itself on its successful inclusive education model, now being used as an example of how the initiative can and does create positive outcomes for kids.
Thuringowa's journey toward inclusive education began in 2014, when they hired Loren Swancutt.
Ms Swancutt, the head of inclusive schooling, said when she had started there had been about 70 students with a "verified" disability, including autism, an intellectual disability or a physical, visual, hearing, or speech language impairment, who had been almost completely separated from their peers.
She said this created an environment where students with a disability had low expectations of themselves, deep-seated feelings of not being worthy and isolation.
Ms Swancutt said the other issue with separating students as Thuringowa SHS did prior to the new model was there were many kids who did not fit the defined categories of disability who were receiving no support.
"When we talk about why (of inclusive education) we talk about the hearts and minds," she said.
"The hearts aspect of it is in relation to that social justice aspect and the moral imperative side of things.
"It is a human right that if we want to build inclusive and just societies beyond school gates then it starts within school gates.
"Then we have the mind side of it, where we look at the research. In 40 years there hasn't yet been research done that comes out in favour of segregation for children with a disability."
She said students always perform better when provided an inclusive experience and contrary to misconceptions, students without a disability are not disadvantaged.
And the results are showing, for all kids.
"There's been a massive increase in student academic achievement, a huge decrease in relation to bullying of students with a disability in the school, and more students graduating and going on to university or full-time work," Ms Swancutt said.
Students at the school, who have now known no other model, are confused when they are asked about how they feel about their peers with a disability being in their classrooms.
"To them it's completely natural … they don't understand why we're so focused on wanting to know because they just see it as a normal part of their schools," Ms Swancutt said.
"And they often ask, 'well, there isn't a separate shopping centre, or separate cinema, so why do we need separate places in school?'."
Thuringowa SHS is one of three schools out of 111 in the North Queensland region that have deployed the inclusive education model.
This means the Townsville school has garnered a lot of attention from academics and other schools hoping to mirror the success.
Thuringowa was recently awarded the State Government's "Excellence in Schools" regional award for the program.