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OHS RISE and Links in photo at Inclusion assembly

Everyone wants to feel included. Valued. That’s the focus of the first district-wide Inclusion Week, a time where the entire district comes together to focus on what it looks and feels like to be included.

For the 3rd year, our OHS RISE students (Level 2 & 3 special education students) and their Links (peer pals) are organizing Inclusion Week, a time to celebrate everyone and learn about the importance of supporting all students. “It is about improving ourselves for the better and expanding our thinking as a community and individual. Additionally, it's a time to allow students who don't normally get to be leaders to show the skills they have and educate others,” says Allie Rittenhouse, Otsego Special Education Teacher and lead mentor for Inclusion Week activities. 

While this is the 3rd year for the high school, this is the first year they’ve expanded their effort and message to include the entire district. “The students had done a great job with it the last two years at just the high school and I felt that they were ready to expand and work district-wide,” says Rittenhouse. “It is giving them the opportunity to show their leadership skills in different ways and allows them the practice of many different life and school skills.” The students are making all the decisions with help from their links and guidance from their teachers. They will be the ones speaking at events across the district. They’re hosting assemblies at three schools, traveling to classrooms at another, organizing dress-up days with key messages of inclusion for the district, and setting up tables at lunches for kids to sign an inclusion pledge if they wish.

“The students have worked really hard over the last couple of months to plan everything and I am very proud of all the work they have put into this event. These kids can do so much and giving them this opportunity has shown us and them what they are capable of,” Rittenhouse says. 

Ahead of this week, several students were interviewed for a special video talking about inclusion and how they are involved. From OHS RISE students to Links, teachers and parents, they had great messages that will be shared district-wide this week. You can see that Inclusion Week video here. 

Along with putting a focus on inclusion for the week, it’s also a chance to highlight what our district already does to include others. Just last Friday night, our OHS RISE students were crowned as royalty of the Snowcoming game, a new tradition that started in 2020. We have a Links program, where general education students are paired with a special education student to help them with everyday activities to get them involved in the school community. This program has continued to grow each year. The impact has been incredible on all students and they’re hoping for more positive impacts from this week. 

“Continued support and acceptance of all students at all grade levels” is the goal of Inclusion Week, Rittenhouse says. “Getting to educate and start talking about inclusion at a younger age is only going to help all students. The younger we teach it, the longer they get to learn about it and experience it. The future of the world is our youth and they are the ones that will make this world and our community one of acceptance and support for everyone.”

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