Inclusion Week, hosted by the Best Buddies Club and the Wellness Warriors, took place on Mar. 3 to Mar. 6. Students wore their pajamas on Monday; sported their favorite team’s jersey on Tuesday; arrived in all black clothing on Wednesday; dressed as a superhero on Thursday; and wore red, white and blue on Friday. “We encouraged all people to participate to spread the message of inclusion and promote an inclusive community,” Best Buddies president junior Catherine Contreras said.
The international Best Buddies organization believes in creating communities that include people with and without disabilities in shared experiences. Inclusion allows people of all backgrounds and abilities to feel welcome in the community. “When people with disabilities are integrated into the social fabric of the community and accepted as an individual beyond disability, there is an improvement in happiness, self-esteem, decision-making capacity, and perceptions of value,” according to bestbuddies.org.
Contreras, who is also a part of the Wellness Warriors, initiated the plan for Inclusion Week as a way to celebrate Inclusion Month, which occurs in March. While Best Buddies and Wellness Warriors helped plan Inclusion Week, the Student Government Association helped promote the week as a school-wide event. “I participated in it by following the spirit days and it made me happy that so many people were participating,” SGA member junior Riya Kohli said.
As part of Inclusion Week, Best Buddies Club also celebrated Pledge to Include Day. The day of awareness celebrated annually, previously known as Spread the Word to End the Word day, was an initiative to encourage people to rethink their use of the R-word and respect all individuals. On Mar. 4, the club arranged a table in the Commons during lunch where people were able to sign a pledge to respect and embrace people of all abilities. “Members of Best Buddies also walked around the school collecting signs to make a large link of pledges to symbolize unity among the community,” Contreras said.
Junior Ellie Helgeson thinks that while this school is inclusive, there is always room for improvement. Helgeson enjoyed seeing people dressed up on social media at school, it made her feel more united with the rest of her peers. “It was amazing to see how many people dressed up, their photos were all over Instagram, I hope that this school continues to include everyone beyond Inclusion Week,” Helgeson said.
Security assistant Eddie Tolliver hasn’t seen a student exclude another, and he thinks that it’s important for students to learn about each other because it will prevent them from passing judgment. “The phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’ is ignorant, you are less likely to judge someone when you know more about them,” Tolliver said.
In previous years, Best Buddies Club has celebrated Inclusion Month by creating banners filled with signed inclusivity pledges within their chapter, but Contreras claims she has never seen such school-wide participation during her time at this school. “I have seen other schools in other parts of the world do something similar to this, which is where I got this idea from,” Contreras said.
Contreras wants the Best Buddies Club to continue hosting Inclusion Week at this school even after she graduates to promote respect and harmony within the student body. “It’s something so easy to do, but something so impactful,” she said.