Acting school district superintendent Laurie Meston is being honoured for her part in including children with special needs in the classroom.
Meston has been recognized with a National Inclusive Education Award from the Canadian Association for Community Living and Inclusion B.C.
Meston is the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District’s director of student support services, and the veteran school district administrator was asked to fill the void left by superintendent Jan Unwin’s departure earlier this year while the board undertakes a selection process to find her replacement.
“It’s a surprise – I knew nothing about it,” Meston said of the award. “I feel very privileged and very honoured.”
She was nominated by the Ridge Meadows Association for Community Living, and was the unanimous choice winner.
Early in her career, Meston worked in institutions for the mentally handicapped in Kamloops and the Lower Mainland.
“People were being warehoused, and not valued,” she said.
When she became a teacher, it was natural for her to want to change a system that had similarly “warehoused” students with special needs.
“That has been in my soul since I started teaching,” she said.
At one time it was a controversial topic. There was an argument that students who couldn’t learn at the same pace as a mainstream class would be better off in a special needs classroom.
Meston always felt that just watching everyday interactions between other students, talking and moving through their daily life, is good for even students who don’t appear to be functioning at the same level.
“Even if all you’re doing is being mentally stimulated, at least you have that,” she said.
Meston recalled an occasion where a boy who was physically and mentally handicapped was watching other children outside, playing in the sand. She stopped the fun for a minute, and asked the students how they could include him. After she vetoed the idea of getting him out of his chair into the sand, the students soon had sand on his board, playing with him, with toy trucks driving up his arms. It was good for the boy, and it was good for his classmates.
“School is society. Society is all of us – it includes everyone.”
That outlook has won her the formal appreciation of the Association for Community Living.
Announcing the award, it honoured her for:
• teaching demonstration lessons in classrooms, modeling adaptations and modifications of the curriculum, especially for students who challenge schools the most;
• acting as a liaison between schools and homes when issues arose;
• creating a district Inclusive education committee comprised of parents, educators, trustees, community members – one of the first in the province;
• ensuring that all students participated in all school field trips, annual education trips, school events;
• creating an atmosphere where community services and school services work together to support all students in their learning.
George Serra, president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association, said Meston has long been an advocate for special needs students, ensuring they have adequate teachers assistants, protecting that area from cuts.
“She has been a champion of supporting kids with special needs,” said Serra. “She’s the reason our district has good support for those kids.”
She will receive the award at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre in Nanaimo on June 12, as par of the Inclusion B.C. conference.