Life Centered Education makes ISB a leader in inclusivity
A row of young students working with percussion instruments, assisted by an adult

By Nick Yates, ISB Communications

A hush settled in the audience as the young performers took to the stage. The Elementary School singer, musicians, and dancers had been preparing for weeks. Their peers packed into the theater couldn’t wait to see the show.

A pregnant pause. The singer mouthed his first note, his bandmates joining in in unison, and the dancers started their practiced movements. A light show bathed the stage in a warm glow.

With beaming smiles, the crowd and their teachers clapped and cheered. The performance during the International School of Beijing’s (ISB) Celebrate and Share the Arts (CASTA) festival in late April had been a success!

Audiences had great fun celebrating the work of fellow students during CASTA. What most in the audience weren’t aware of was that the student with the melodic voice and stage presence has autism spectrum disorder. He was one of three students in the Life Centered Education (LCE) class that ISB opened for students with intellectual/cognitive learning disabilities in 2020/2021. He achieved and shared his artistic talents just like all the other students during CASTA. Listeners appreciated his singing without even noticing his disability.

A shot from behind of young students seated following a lesson

A growing program

LCE, the only school program of its kind in Beijing, has added one more student for the current 2021/2022 year and is expected to grow further driven by demand for inclusive education. In LCE, students learn daily living skills, functional academics, social and communication skills, and vocational skills. They are integrated to the maximum extent appropriate in classes with peers of the same age.

As LCE has become established as a part of ISB, its students have formed relationships across their grades. While students in the LCE class are provided with individualized programming led by specialist staff, they are members of homerooms and spend parts of their day learning alongside their same-age peers, developing important social skills, making friends, and engaging in their areas of interest.

Recently, the Grade 10 Science and Engineering class worked on a project with LCE to design and create adaptive equipment. ISB is committed to real-world learning, and the designers set to work on solutions for an actual client in the school community. Their products in use in the LCE class include a step stool, iPad stand, customized pencil grips, and modified eating utensils.

An inviting space with glass doors and careful design just like everywhere else in the Elementary School, the LCE classroom is open for visits from other classes. It’s common outside the LCE room before and after school to see lines of students who just can’t wait to come in and play.

ISB offers a continuum of learning support services to students. The school is dedicated to teaching young people with a wide range of learning profiles, language experiences, social-emotional skills, and academic development. Faculty here embrace and value all students’ contributions to the school, their diversity strengthening the community and empowering everyone in it with greater compassion and purpose.

Creating opportunities where before there were none

Back to the singer in CASTA. For students like him, LCE's existence has made Beijing a much more welcoming and inclusive international city. A talented and bilingual musician currently in Grade 6, he has also mastered the ukulele through taking part in an after-school activity with other students who enjoy music. ISB has worked to make its wide range of co-curricular sports and clubs accessible to all. 

Two students collaborating on a design project with poles and a laptop
Engineering students working on adaptive equipment for the Life Centered Education class

Danette Sack, ISB’s Director of Student Support Services, explained how the LCE program has created opportunities that students with intellectual/cognitive learning disabilities otherwise wouldn’t have had in China’s capital. “International schools have a long history of exclusivity,” Ms. Sack said.

“Expatriate families have experienced challenge in finding schools that want to meet the learning needs of their children with disabilities. When we focus on our purpose, teaching the children of our international families, we realize the moral imperative of teaching all of their children, not just those who learn in typical ways. Part of living our Mission and Vision is the intentional planning and resourcing of programs for students who learn in unique ways and the mutual benefit all our students experience in an environment where all are welcome.”

The parents of other students enrolled in the LCE program support this, with one saying, “Our son loves to go to school every day. It is wonderful to see how he has been accepted as he is by the teachers and children at ISB. They don’t see and judge him by his disabilities and perceptions of what he can’t do, but rather the lovely and happy boy that he is. His inclusion in school is important for him to learn and make friends, but it is also fundamental for the other children, so that they learn that having a disability doesn’t mean that you should be shunned or ignored, but rather fully included like anyone else.

“ISB has stepped up to fill a significant gap in inclusive education in Beijing. For international families with children with different abilities, Beijing was not on the radar as traditional international schools simply rejected children who needed additional supports. ISB recognized that inclusive education makes good business sense and is also important to support an inclusive school environment.”

Inspirational to educators and students

LCE at ISB is about to be highlighted as a case study of a quality program at a conference of the Special Education Network & Inclusion Association (SENIA) in early December. Specialist educators from around the world will gather online and look at what is happening in classrooms, gymnasiums, and theaters here in Beijing. 

Just as these professionals will learn from ISB, the school’s own students of all abilities will continue to be inspired by this shining example of inclusivity.

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