Led by Joni Schmalzried, Ed.D., a group of 10 senior special education majors traveled to Indianapolis March 12 – 13 for the 2015 Focus on Inclusion Conference held by the Indiana Resource Center.
“The purpose of the conference is to bring teachers together, both general education and special education teachers, and talk about how we could include kids with disabilities more in general education,” Schmalzried said. “Inclusion is basically the philosophy that we believe that all kids belong in general education classrooms.”
The conference started off with an opening speech by John Dickerson, director of the Arc of Indiana. Other keynote speakers including Marilyn Friend, Ph.D., a special education expert, and attorney Julie Weatherly, who shared their insights on co-teaching instructions and IEP practices. The conference also had a wide range of concurrent sessions.
Seniors Grace Green, Becca Perhai, Natalie Spahr, Chelsea August, Hannah Kregel, Katie Eckhoff, Jamie Schreur, Danielle Bassous, Brittany Fitzgerald and Kaitlyn Troyer all attended. According to Schmalzried, this was the first time that university students attended the conference.
“It’s actually the first time that they allowed a group of university people to sort of crash the conference,” Schmalzried said. “So we crashed the conference.”
The job of room facilitators included introducing the speakers, and collecting evaluations, among other roles.
“We were room facilitators which just meant we got to sit in on sessions and listen to well-known speakers, many of whom have published books that are widely used in the field of special education,” Spahr said.
“The conference has different strengths,” Schmalzried said. “One section talked about how we can co-teach, and how can we put general education and special education teachers together and co-teach, so we can meet the needs of all kids.”
Bassous said her favorite session was one about brain breaks and activities that will get students moving and learning.
“It was fun and gave me some new ideas to take back and use in my student teaching and future classrooms,” Bassous said.
Schmalzried said this conference is a great opportunity to do some networking and job hunting.
“We have to show college students that professional growth and professional development, networking, meeting people, and listening to national speakers are so important to develop among teachers,” Schmalzried said.
“I viewed this conference as an incredibly beneficial opportunity to both listen to and meet professionals in the field of education,” Spahr said. “It was a great learning experience and a good time to network with principals and other potential employers.”
Schmalzried said this could be an annual conference for students to attend in the future.
“I hope we can do some fundraising,” Schmalzried said. “I’d love to see it become an annual thing for students.”