Fall 2020

Seclusion to Inclusion

Words such a ‘segregation’ and ‘seclusion’ have historically had a pejorative flavor (Fritzen, 2011). However, research indicates that some students benefit from a process of seclusion to inclusion. 

Often it is individuals with very little expert knowledge on certain student demographics who have the strongest opinions against even short-term seclusion of said students, opting instead for full inclusion of English as a second language (EAL) and literacy, academics and language (LAL) students from day one (Aisicovich, 2019). Inclusion also seems to be the mot de jour that educator cling to when justifying their one-size-fits-all program delivery; however, without context, ‘incusion’ can be harmful. Inclusion is only effective where there is equity woven through the process and culture of the educational context. What this means is that students with greater needs should receive greater support. In the case of EAL and LAL students, their needs encompass numerous areas, including social, emotional as well as academic, prior to being able to be successful in mainstream English-only or French-only language classes (Berry, 1997; Daniel & Conlin, 2015). 

The idea of seclusion is still quite distasteful to most senior administrators who may not be aware of the many social and emotional needs EAL/LAL students have that are met when in a short-term secluded setting. Others in metro Manitoba school administration do not see the cost/ benefit in investing funds in EAL/LAL programming because they view second language learners in a “deficit light” (Ligget, 2010). Further to this view, often those divisions that do develop specialized programing for second language learners do not hire specialized EAL educators and educational assistants (Aisicovich, 2019). 

EAL/LAL students coming from a myriad of countries bring with them a variety of cultural mores, literacy levels and academic knowledge. The assumption that placing them into mainstream classes will support them academically is short-sighted and limited. In this case inclusion is a damaging concept. Scoval (1978) describes how, 

Placing EAL/LAL students in mainstream classes without the requisite linguistic abilities to thrive creates a stressful context that subjects students to high levels of anxiety. This biochemical response puts many students under physical strain for extended periods of time, as they try unsuccessfully to acculturate, integrate and learn. (Scoval, 1978) 

This line of thinking, and the resultant process guarantees that EAL/LAL students will not be successful, and some will inevitably drop out entirely (Platt, Harper & Mendoza, 2003; Roessingh, Kover & Watt, 2005).

Some metro Manitoba school divisions have had the insight to develop EAL/LAL classes specifically for new Canadians who arrive with below grade level language ability and or interrupted schooling in order to help them fill their academic gaps and to learn English/French fluently prior to inclusion into grade five through twelve mainstream classes. However, often it is a new education graduate, term teacher who has EAL/LAL added to his or her schedule and therefore the support these students receive is not specialized or supportive of their needs (Aisicovich, 2019). The role of EAL/LAL teachers is to develop an environment allowing for a variety of perspectives, views and culture, giving EAL/LAL students’ a voice, and to advocate for their needs while supporting and nurturing their academic potential, all of which requires expertise (Coulter, Wiens & Fenstermacher, 2009). Research shows that a short-term seclusion of EAL/LAL student at the outset of their academic career in a highly supportive environment with a skilled specialist will benefit them in the long run. This respite allows the students to develop social skills, language skills and overcome culture-shock while learning the ligua franca (Aisicovich, 2019). This short-term seclusion also ensures that when EAL/LAL students are integrated into the mainstream classes they will be more successful and ultimately more productive members of society (Daniel & Conlin, 2015; Gardner, Tremblay & Masgoret, 1997; Kouritzin, 1999; Schwartz, Kozminsky & Leikin, 2009; Shohamy, 2014). In most cases, once EAL/LAL students have developed the requisite level of English language proficiency, they are transitioned into regular mainstream classes with great success.

Education is a fluid and organic entity, constantly shifting and growing as research and initiatives are adopted across Manitoba divisions. The spread of globalism has also created a sense of normalcy of new Canadians in Manitoba schools. Additionally, new courses and certification opportunities added to the University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg offerings are allowing for a greater expertise to be developed by educators entering the workforce. It is hoped that all these factors will working together to help create a greater understanding of the social, emotional and academic needs of new Canadians as they enter the public-school system. It is also hoped that with this growth of understanding, senior a dministration in Manitoba school divisions will have a paradigm shift regarding the concept of inclusion and will consider their student demographic when assigning resources and funds. 

Margaret Aisicovich is a principal of Inwood, a K-12 school in Lakeshore School Division. Prior to being a principal, she worked in RETSD as a Divisional Consultant for EAL. Margaret holds a PhD in Education.

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