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Watch our 60th Anniversary video that honours and remembers the civil rights history of people with intellectual disabilities in BC. Read more about our history here.

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2018 National Inclusive Education Award Winners

Inclusion BC and the Family Support Institute of BC are proud to announce six BC winners in three categories for the 2018 National Inclusive Education Awards.

Click on each name below for details of the six winning 2018 submissions.

Category 1: Education Leadership

Recognizing leaders and administrators at the school, district, preschool and post-secondary levels.

2 winners:

  1. Angela Pardek, Supervisor, Hastings Community Preschool, Vancouver
  2. Sally Marr, Learning Services Teacher, Charles Hays Secondary School, Prince Rupert

Category 2: Inclusive Teaching

Recognizing classroom and resource teachers, peer mentors, instructors and early childhood educators.

2 winners:

  1. Twila Konynenbelt, teacher, Brechin Elementary School, Nanaimo
  2. Kyme Wegrich, teacher, Walton Elementary School, Coquitlam

Category 3. Inclusive Education Teams

This year we decided to add a new award recognizing two group nominations for exceptional teams of educators working together to advance inclusive education in their schools.

2 winners:

  1. SD63 Team, Saanichton School District, Saanich
  2. Westcot Team, Westcot Elementary School, West Vancouver

The National Inclusive Education Awards

More info:


1. Angela Pardek, supervisor, Hastings Community Preschool

Nominator: Fiona Johnson, parent

Submission: My son is non-verbal autistic and is 4 years old. I interviewed a few preschools but only 2 regular ones. I was worried after seeing how autistic kids are not included in my eldest son’s elementary school it would be the same.

From day 1 Angela asked me to come in and talk to all the staff and tell me all the good bad and quirks about our life and son. She made me feel safe so I gave it a go.

Having a son who can't talk and advocate and who also runs away, it's hard to trust someone will care and try and help him be a regular kid. On his first day, she greeted us and got down to his level and welcomed him like all the other kids, even though he didn't respond with words or eye contact. She showed him where to put his bag and encouraged him to follow the other kids and do crafts.  She let him run around and jump, then guided him back. He was so happy and his behavioural consultant, who was there with me just in case, looked at me and we cried. She tells my son when he is playing well side by side with someone. She sees what he is into and encourages him and others to play his game and take turns.

Angela always directs my son to follow his friends and wash hands when they enter. She allows him to explore everything in the space and notes what he is gravitating towards. She encourages him to sit with the other kids and paint or do a craft or read a book together – things he would never do at home with his brothers.

She slowly introduced circle time. At the start he could only do 2 minutes. Then 5 minutes, then 10 and he dances and joins in. Even though he was non-verbal, she talked to him normally, like we do. It’s like she has love and respect for him, like we do. She sits with him at the snack table and next to someone and tells him what the other person’ name is and what they are eating.  I don’t think she thinks twice about how she is including him. We’ve had behavioural interventionists work with him and when I’ve peeked in to see them, they’re on their phones and my son is in the corner. So when I see someone like Angela and her whole team, they need to be recognised.

Angela leads by example. Her team all treat all their students / kids with love and encouragement and support.  When Angela doesn’t work with my son, they do and it’s amazing.

Angela encourages kids to play together and explains how to play with each other in ways that are fun for both children.  My son now has used words and he practiced Angela’s name for days before he went in and used it to say Hi.

My son senses people’s energy and he loves these preschool teachers and kids. He has to be bribed to leave school. 

He has been learning so much. Everything he learns in behavioural therapy, he tries at preschool.  He feels safe, I can tell, because he opens up and he looks in their eyes and hugs them like he would a family member. He has learned colours and calls the kids friends.

This success is the result of hard work by my son and all his team but at preschool it’s all guided by Angela and how inclusive she makes her classroom. She always asks us for tips on how his day is going and tells me if he said a new word or made a new friend that day. She tells me if he knows colours or what books he likes.

Even when my son has meltdowns, she talks to him like a person, even if he just screams back. She gives him time and uses our calm-down techniques and explains to the other kids that he is needing his own break. I've never seen such love and respect not only for our special needs kids but all kids. Which proves they are all included.


2. Sally Marr, Learning Services Teacher, Charles Hays Secondary School

Nominator: Raegan Sawka, colleague & parent/foster parent

Submission: Sally Marr has been a key leader of inclusive education in School District 52 (Prince Rupert) since 1981.  She has worked as an elementary and secondary LST, District Helping Teacher, and oversees the education of students in care of MCFD in her school. She has initiated welcoming and inclusive spaces in all of the schools where she has worked. Sally has personally ensured thousands of students have had inclusive programming and success in her career. She is the go-to expert and strongest advocate for all learners. Adults in our community credit her with staying in school and achieving both their graduation and careers.  Sally has made the critical difference for our most vulnerable learners.

Sally encourages all staff through her presentations, relationship building, mentoring and supports to ensure all students have full and meaningful participation in all aspects of school.  She is a tireless advocate with her kind and intelligent approach to helping colleagues build capacity to design for all learners.  Sally coordinates early morning meetings with counselling staff and late evening meetings with classroom teachers, EAs, parents and admin staff to ensure students are included and participating in all social, academic, and extracurricular pursuits.  She coordinates with outside agencies as well.  Parent groups seek her knowledge and expertise for advocacy.

From 1981 to 2018, Sally has been our go-to expert for all educators, parents and students to ask for advice and information on inclusive practice and access to learning. Recently, Sally and her colleagues presented to the district parents’ advisory council, our trustees, and senior management on the latest research on RTI and the importance of timely assessments and supports for all ages, but especially for our early learners. Any time a colleague requires her time and expertise, she warmly drops everything to support them.  Her room is open to students facing anxiety, needing a welcome space for sensory regulation, and she is out in the school and community to share her ideas and help with anyone who requires it.

Sally is very close to retirement. She is as enthusiastic and hard-working today as the first day of her career. I am very certain she is amongst the most suitable for this award of anyone in the province. Her social justice advocacy for inclusion and equity for all learners, families, and community members is second to none. It would be the greatest honour to be able to acknowledge her passion and dedication through this award. She is very humble, but it would be amazing for all of her colleagues to be able to recognize her this way. All of our 187 teachers, 50 EAs, and 20 Administrators would love to see this happen.


3. Twila Konynenbelt, teacher, Brechin Elementary School

Nominator: Katerina Gamlin, parent

Submission: Twila came to our home at the beginning of the school year to connect better with our child. She takes a minimum of 10 minutes every day after school to talk to us and our daughter about what she did really well that day and what the next day will look like.

 She sends me pictures of our child when she is doing something really great! (socializing, reading with others, doing math group, playing with her friends etc.)

Twila is incredibly knowledgeable in the area of special education.  She uses encouragement techniques to coax my child into participating in class activities and then rewards her for her efforts by sending me pics and texts throughout the day or gives her her toy fish Nemo to play with.  She does not single our child out by giving her special equipment, but offers the same to all children and makes that very well known.

She engages the entire class to be a supportive and kind environment and thus provided many opportunities for our child to foster meaningful friendship with her peers.  She encourages her to showcase her strengths and talents to her peers.  Our daughter was obsessed with fish and was drawing them constantly at Christmas time, so Twila had her work on the classroom door decoration for the Xmas contest that was happening at the school.  So of course my daughter drew fish with Santa hats and elf ears so the class called it Merry Fishmas Door.  It was beautiful.  She is also working on supporting our child to give an art lesson to the rest of the class.

She has consistently advocated for us during an IEP meetings among other times at the school. Twila sets realistic expectations for all of her students and encourages them all to reach their highest potential.  Our child is now in Grade 5 and Twila is the first teacher that we had that consistently raises the bar for our daughter to reach her academic and social goals.  She works with us every day to ensure that all of the work gets done, as she states that our child is smart and can do it.  I can honestly say that I have never experienced that kind of welcoming inclusive attitude in the public school system until I met Twila.  :)


4. Kyme Wegrich, teacher, Walton Elementary

Nominator: Andrea Prochazka, EA

Submission: I have been an Education Assistant for 14 years, and working in Kyme's classroom has been an awakening. I am finally witnessing a teacher who embraces, celebrates and supports ALL the student's in her class.

Kyme is a teacher who is dedicated to each and every one of her "kids." She goes above and beyond the call in many ways, but the most obvious is the physical layout of her classroom. Kyme has a number of students with different needs in her room, and one student who has autism. Kyme has transformed her class into a sensory haven. Instead of bright lights, she has hung soft light from the ceiling, and has placed warm lamps around the room in order to bring a sense of calm. She organizes the space into flexible work stations. Students who find it easier to stand to write use the standing table, she has a hockey stool and exercise ball for students who like to sit at their desk but still need to move. She also has scoop seats that students can use on the carpet. These seats allow students to rock back and forth. This option is the personal favourite of the student in her class who has autism.

Kyme believes that providing her students with a space that is comfortable, and meets their sensory needs is integral to their success in learning.

Academically Kyme differentiates when she teaches. For reading subjects and math, she breaks the kids into groups according to the levels they are currently at. She does NOT teach a generic lesson for grade 3s or 4s. She assesses each student and works with them at their level so they can have best learning success.

In Math, she teaches small groups and they rotate through a lesson in a small group, their practice work in a small group and then a math game in a small group. She prepares and teaches 3 to 4 different math lessons in order to meet the learning needs of all her students, and I am seriously amazed at her dedication and commitment.  For the student I primarily support, she organizes ways for her level of learning to be met. Together with the Resource teacher, a math program has been created to meet this student's learning needs and Kyme ensures that this student is always included in the social game aspect of the class. For example, in a card game where children are adding, the student I support will be identifying the numbers for her peers prior to them adding.

Watching how Kyme teaches is mind blowing! It's hard to imagine how much work goes into her planning of the school day, but seeing the results of how her students learn is her personal reward.

The culture of inclusion Kyme creates is contagious. She knows that each student in her classroom is HER student. Often over the years, as an EA I worked with many teachers who look to me to create, develop and implement learning programs for students with special needs. In Kyme's class she works collaboratively with myself and the Resource support teacher to design lessons to meet the needs of ALL her students.

I truly believe that the culture in our school has become more inclusive because of Kyme. Her colleagues witnessing how she teaches, hearing her stories of success, and sharing in the joy she finds in each of her kids.

Last year, myself and the student I support were in Kyme's class (this is her second year in her classroom). The student I support moved from Sudan a few years ago and Mom had struggled to make connections with other families. At the beginning of the school year, Kyme hosted a cultural party where families in her class came to school, dressed in their traditional cultural clothing and bringing a favourite dish from their country. It was amazing. The mother of the student I support was able to connect with other parents in the class and it was fantastic to celebrate the cultural diversity in our room!

I hope she can be considered for the Inclusive Education award and possibly recognized for the difference she continues to make in the lives of children and families.


5. SD63 (Saanichton) Team 

Kal Russell, principal; Jodi Beaudry, Teacher and IST; Erin Stinson, IST; Scott Stinson, Assistant Superintendent; Jessica Tamburino, EA/School Secretary

Nominator: Heather Carley, parent

Submission: This district has repeatedly, over our 9 years together, stepped up and started with ‘yes’ and ‘let’s try’.  We have insisted on full inclusion every step of the way and they have honoured that even when it isn’t easy or obvious.  We have taken risks together and seen both disappointing failures and unexpected successes.  My neurotypical kids have benefited equally from the inclusive culture they experience.  This district has been willing to remain in conversation with us, giving us space to question, clarify, consult, and critique.  We have thought critically together and disagreed sometimes but they have never wavered in their commitment to children and to inclusion.

I have supported other families to choose SD63 when they have been let down by other schools and systems repeatedly.  Again they have stepped up and demonstrated unwavering commitment.  Parents who thought they would have to fight and demand and advocate are met with: “We want your child here.  You belong here.  And let’s figure it out together.”

Sports and clubs in elementary and middle school were intentionally inclusive.  No try-outs, everyone plays, everyone learns, everyone is supported. Throughout her schooling my daughter has been invited and included in swim club, volleyball team, leadership groups, choir, dance, sailing, and any academic or elective course she chooses.  She has been included and supported before school, after school, and lunchtime clubs and classes.

She has been allowed to try new things and change her mind.  Even when resources have been abysmally limited the district has been willing to work creatively with us to make these things happen.  They have never made the incredible and ongoing funding shortfalls HER problem.  She has been made to feel valued and has developed a sense of responsibility to her teachers, school and classmates.  She does not question that she belongs because she always HAS belonged.  At no moment has she been segregated or congregated because of her disabilities.

The district has demonstrated a commitment to inclusion.  It has been done for us without fuss or fanfare and without any ‘special’ programs for our ‘special’ child.  By fully including my daughter they have demonstrated to her classmates, siblings, and the broader community that she belongs and that her access to real education matters.  The other kids expect her to be in their Math classes, French classes, or PE classes because she always has been.  These children are growing up to be our leaders and employers.  They will expect and accept diversity in their workplaces and educational communities, and in their recreation spaces because their school District has demonstrated that diversity is normal and natural, important and valuable.

I can go on and on with specific examples.  There are more staff that I have not listed but these few have truly demonstrated commitment and leadership over the years.  I would love to honour this as she begins planning for her life after high school.


6. Westcot Elementary Team

Laura Couling, Learning Support Teacher; Kelsey Woodley, classroom teacher; and Heather Bushby, EA.

Nominator: Sandra Doyle, parentHeather Bushby, Laura Couling and Kelsey Woodley

Submission: I’m so happy and so grateful for this opportunity to nominate these three incredible women for the 2018 Inclusive Education Awards. This is really a group nomination as the working relationship between these educators is so seamless and symbiotic that one cannot really be nominated without the others.

(Photo - left to right: Heather Bushby, Laura Couling and Kelsey Woodley)

I wanted to share a bit of my and my daughter’s personal journey to complement these nominations. This school year has been incredibly liberating for my daughter. Diagnosed with autism and General Anxiety disorder, school has not been an easy experience for her. Last year, in particular was damaging as she did not have the support she needed. Although Ms. Couling was part of the team last year, she was simply not enough. My daughter was showing signs of clinical depression by Christmas 2016. She felt very isolated and disconnected from her peers. I would see her playing alone by herself at recess often in the dirt with sticks. She completed very little work within the classroom and was often alone with an EA in the resource room. My heart broke last year for her.

Fast forward to this year and a new team and a new child because of it. Ms. Couling is still part of our team and she has found amazing synergy with my daughter’s new classroom teacher and new EA. My daughter has friends, she is invited to play dates and birthday parties, and kids say “hi” to her in passing in the hallways. She completes the same amount of work as her peers and most of it is done in the classroom with her peers.

After attending a birthday party in the fall my daughter said to me, “Mom, I had so much fun! We laughed and had such a good time. I used to think I was different by you know what? I think I’m just like any other kid!”

Our home support and team hasn’t changed since last year, so I know that the big change in my daughter is because the school piece has finally come together. I feel supported and respected as a parent and for the first time I no longer worry when I send my child to school.

Whether these ladies win the award or not, I feel like we have already won. Across the board all three individuals recognize the importance of emotional needs, and that without feeling safe and understood, instructional strategies are ineffective. Kelsey, Heather and Laura: each is a jewel and together they form a beautiful crown of inclusion that my child is able to adorn and feel accepted, safe, understood and happy. She has wings and I’m so excited to see where she can fly in the future.

  1. Laura Couling is very skilled in identifying, nurturing and building on the interests, talents and success of each student she works with. She establishes a bond of trust that makes students feel safe and therefore frees them from some of the emotional overload that can occur during learning. Ms. Couling is extremely positive and supportive. She builds positive relationships with parents and colleagues alike. She is always trying to think ahead, plan and support in a proactive fashion. She checks in with students throughout the day and ensures that she is available and visible during critical times – e.g. first day of school (even if it isn’t her day to work as she is a part-time employee).

Ms. Couling volunteers with the school choir and is there not only in a musical capacity (she is an accomplished singer/performer) but also as a support and “cornerstone” person for those who need extra support. My daughter loves to sing and Ms. Couling has used this as a way to steer her into choir where she has made connections with peers that otherwise would not have happened. Ms. Couling has also organized clubs that are inclusive and offer peer support. For my daughter, Ms. Couling organized a Dance Club working in collaborations with another teacher to give my daughter a fun lunch-time activity with peer leaders (older students) and an opportunity to practice small group social communication skills with peers. Ms. Couling also includes students in their own planning process and seeks feedback from students to make them aware of their progress and areas requiring further development.

Among educators, Ms. Couling has presented to the district’s larger educational community regarding the use of adaptive technology to support communication and inclusion. She is in constant communication with students, colleagues, parents and community support teams, including outside of work hours. She even visited us in our home prior to the start of the new school year and took a lot of time helping my daughter work through her anxiety about returning to school. Ms. Couling takes the time to actively listen to “out-of-the-box” ideas that support inclusion. She is a ready advocate for students and allows others on the team the freedom to express and implement their own ideas in a responsible and collaborative fashion.

There is a saying that the best teachers are the best learners. Laura Couling is truly one of the best. She has told me on more than one occasion how much she has learned from working with my daughter. Ms. Couling brings to the table a wealth of knowledge, experience, dedication and openness that only helps to propel everyone forward. My daughter refers to her as Mrs. “Cool” Couling. “Mom she is always so calm,” she says with a smile.

  1. Heather Bushby goes above and beyond building trusting relationships with the students in the class. The trust that she has with students is apparent in the way that they open up to her and discuss triumphs and issues with her. She is always willing to lend an ear to any of the students. Her approach is very student-centred and focussed on positive peer relationships. She is able to intuitively “read” a student and quietly offer a fidget or a sticky note with helpful words. She is a calm and grounding presence in the classroom.

Ms. Bushby is always thinking about school as both an academic and social space. She is very encouraging and positive when talking to students. She focuses on having a growth mindset and always believes in their ability even when the student might not. She has a talent for unique problem solving that incorporates the special interest of students. For example, my daughter has a special attachment to her stuffed bunny so Ms. Bushby brought in another stuffed bunny as a “friend” to join my daughter’s bunny as a means to support the gradual fading of my daughter’s stuffed rabbit at school. Without any anxiety or stress my daughter was brought to a point where she decided herself it was time to send bunny to her own bunny school while my daughter went to people school. This also helped by daughter to communicate/interact/socialize more directly with her peers as she no longer needed her stuffed bunny to fall back on. To further social/peer relationships Ms. Bushby facilitates a recess group based on creative play called Gumdrop Land. My daughter and some peers meet weekly to create clay characters and are currently collaborating on a story line for the characters to act out. This group has evolved into so much more than play and is a way for a group of students to build positive and meaningful friendships. Birthday party invitations have been extended to my daughter as a result of the connections made in this group.

Heather Bushby is a strong advocate for the students she works with and she is always looking for ways to further support their inclusion. She recognized my daughter’s talent for coding and is collaborating with school staff to include my daughter in a girls’ coding club (even though she is technically too young for the group). Ms. Bushby is very reflective and a keen contributor to discussions on IEP learning goals, etc. She checks in regularly with all team members, including students themselves, in decisions made. She is always thinking of the future and how a student will best move forward.

Ms. Bushby has an indescribable gift for “reading” students and identifying the underlying need, barrier, trigger. She helps coach students through difficult landscapes that contain layers of academic/ social/ emotional need; and she does it so seamlessly. It’s really an art form for her. In a way she is like an invisible layer so that her presence does not overpower the person that she is supporting. She supports with fluidity so that the person not the need is what shines.

  1. Kelsey Woodley has a warm, welcoming and calm demeanour. She is available before/after school to meet with parents and/or devote extra time to individual students. She has a private lunch with each student and takes the time to genuinely connect with each one. She writes a very personalized thank you note to each student thanking them for sharing lunch with her and emphasizing something positive in each student. She responds immediately to parent emails, even on weekends. The physical environment of her classroom is uncluttered, calm and organized. The students have flexible seating and workplace/space choices. She uses tables, hokki stools, a couch and a cozy rug all as options for students to use. She incorporates class-wide Movement and Mindfulness breaks. Regulation tools are available to every student. She presents multiple ways for a student to demonstrate his/her understanding of the subject matter. She allows for early morning entry for students who need a little more time to settle in for the day.

Ms. Woodley is very mindful of her students, their unique needs and looks for ways to incorporate the special interests of students to make difficult topics and/or activities more engaging. My daughter has an affinity for rabbits. Ms. Woodley used this interest as a way for my daughter to present to the class about the new rabbits our family was fostering. This sparked a lot of interest from her classmates and promoted conversation. Ms. Woodley is very “in tune” with her students as well. She recognized the need for some students to develop more teamwork skills and introduced weekly cooperative learning games that were fun and engaging. She is willing to implement adaptations to accommodate students’ success in learning. She organized and facilitates a weekly Yoga Club during lunch period, knowing this would appeal to and benefit not only my child, but many of her peers as well.

Ms. Woodley ensures that all students have an opportunity to get to know one another by rotating table seating daily, making exceptions for those whose needs may indicate otherwise. This also allows them to accept differences. Ms. Woodley strategically selects students for group project work to support individual success in learning to work together. She fosters an environment where peers support each other. Ms Woodley is an example of inclusive education to other educators in demonstrating how to be flexible and adapt and recognizing that what is good for “designated” students is good for all students. With both parents and colleagues, she is willing and open to listening to input from them. She works to consider and implement the ideas of others that support inclusion. Ms. Woodley consults with and team teaches with the school counsellor regarding brain science, mindfulness and anxiety (understanding and management). She also works extremely well with the learning support teacher and classroom EA. 

Open, flexible and supportive are the three words that best describe Ms. Woodley. She has a natural ability to adjust the flow (e.g. time of day) of preferred subjects to allow the participation of all students, including students that participate in additional curriculum activities that take them away from the classrooms at times. For example, she changed the time that art was taught so my daughter didn’t notice it when she left to participate in a weekly district adapted swim program.