Dozens of students are supporting policies to include special needs learners in high school classes, following a conference on inclusion held in Halifax over the weekend.
About 40 per cent of the young people who attended the Nova Scotia Secondary Schools Students Association conference have special needs.
"If students with special needs are isolated from other students, it creates a stigma towards students with special needs — that they're not really around or that they can't interact with the rest of the student body," Connor McKiggan, one of the organizers, told CBC Radio's Mainstreet.
"That's something that we work really hard to try to eliminate."
McKiggan is a Grade 12 student at Halifax West High School. He says the inclusion policy is mutually beneficial.
"It's taught me to really open up my mind and accept everyone's differences."
But one of the challenges of such a policy, he says, is many classroom teachers don't have enough training to deal with special needs students.
"They're taught how to teach but they're not taught any extra stuff on how to tailor a classroom to help teach students with special needs," he said.
'For me in high school it was hard'
Nicole McDonald, who is a graduate of Sir John A. MacDonald High School in Tantallon, agrees. She is now studying at the Nova Scotia Community College.
"For me in high school it was hard. Like Connor said, my teachers didn't have the resources to teach me what I was able to learn. I had different outcomes for some of my classes ... the teachers have 30 other kids that they need to teach ... There's not a lot of extra time for students like me."
McDonald said she had individual program plans for many of her classes. She agrees with IPPs, but didn't appreciate being taken out of the classroom.
"For a lot of my work, I had to be pulled out and put in the learning centre," she said. "I didn't want to go in the learning centre. I wanted to stay in the classroom with all my other classmates and peers."
Inclusion and fitting in
Catherine Densmore, who graduated from Prince Andrew High School in Dartmouth, says it's important for special needs students to feel like they're part of the wider student body when they're in high school.
"It was really awesome to have really good friends. Friends are really sweet and awesome to have," said Densmore
McDonald said inclusion made her feel like she fit in.
"It helped me in the long run. It helped boost my self confidence, like, to say to people, I'm just like everybody else."