Hannah & Her Peers Learn Together

All Are Welcome: Shifting the Paradigm in Catholic Schools

Learning how to read and attending Catholic school. That’s the “simple dream” Patrice Tuohy had for her daughter, Hannah. But finding a Catholic school with the resources to educate a child with Down syndrome was much more difficult than she’d imagined.

“Then I attended a seminar hosted by The Belle Center, which is now a part of Aspire,” said Patrice. The experience not only opened her eyes to the value of inclusive education, but ultimately led her to find one of the few Catholic schools in the area – St. Matthias in Lincoln Square – whose principal was proactively pursuing funding to accept kids with special needs. The experience was an eye-opener for Aspire as well, making it clear that educational environments that welcomed kids of all abilities were missing from many Catholic schools.

HANNAH TRYNow underway is a groundbreaking new initiative to help redefine Catholic education for kids with disabilities in the community. It’s All Are Welcome, an innovative, multi-faceted approach to helping Catholic school principals adopt inclusive practices and promote positive changes at their institutions. It was created by Aspire, Big Shoulders Fund, a programming and funding organization supporting 82 inner-city Catholic schools, The Jenny and P. Jay Fortner Family Fund, the Opus Foundation, The Coleman Foundation, The W.P. and H.B. White Foundation, and Loyola University’s Andrew M. Greeley Center for Catholic Education.

The program got its start six years ago when Loyola’s Greeley Center and Big Shoulders Fund launched the Opening Doors to All initiative at 10 schools including St. Matthias. “But the piece that was missing were direct services for children with special needs,” said Rebecca Ryan, the Big Shoulders Fund’s Senior Director of Academics. “That’s why partnering with Aspire is a huge opportunity. It means we can finally provide teachers and parents with the support needed to help these kids.”

Greeley Center Director Mike Boyle, Ph.D. agreed. “As Catholics, we’re called upon to provide all individuals, including those who have been marginalized, with just environments,” said Mike Boyle. “Like Aspire, our desire is to be sure all kids get the education they want.”

The program launched this year, with Aspire and Loyola collaborating with several Catholic schools striving to create a community where kids of all abilities learn together.

“Principals are so happy that they’re finally getting the support they need to help children with disabilities,” said Mike.

This is just the start. Over the next five years, this life-changing initiative has the potential to positively impact over 50 schools in the area along with thousands of students, families and community members. “By making principals and teachers more aware of inclusive learning, we can effect a major paradigm shift in Catholic schools,” said Robin Schroud, Associate Director of Inclusion and Community Initiatives at Aspire.

That would be a welcome change for parents like Patrice Tuohy, who knows first-hand how much her daughter, Hannah, has thrived from the “all are welcome” learning environment at St. Matthias. “We could not have done this without Aspire’s help,” she said. “I hope All Are Welcome enables more families to send their children to the schools they want them to attend.”

Learn more about this groundbreaking initiative at www.luc.edu/gcce/inclusivepractices/allarewelcome or contact Robin Schroud from Aspire at 773.878.7868 or rschroud@aspirechicago.com.

Register today for the Mustard Seed Project Conference on October 10, 2016 in Chicago. The Mustard Seed Project is a conference for principals, teacher-leaders and parents that explores the important topic of serving students with disabilities within the Catholic school setting.


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