British Columbia·Matheson

School program aims to boost inclusion for students with special needs

CBC reporter Jason D'Souza spent a month embedded at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, B.C., and got an inside look at how the school is trying to improve inclusion for students with intellectual and developmental disorders.

'They want to be in the space, they want to be included, they want to be successful,' teacher says

Tyler Allison is a special needs teacher at L.A. Matheson Secondary School. (Alistair Brown/CBC)

Students in the BASES program at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, B.C., are not only preparing for life outside of high school, they are also helping to prepare their fellow students.

The program is for students with developmental or intellectual disabilities, with courses tailored to their needs. Teachers in BASES — which stands for Building Academic, Social and Employment Skills — help their pupils with their studies, social and emotional skills and job preparation.

The students also engage with their peers at school by maintaining Matheson's recycling program and delivering fruit to classrooms, which raises their visibility with the rest of the student body.

Special needs teacher Tyler Allison told CBC reporter Jason D'Souza, who spent a month embedded at Matheson, that he hopes including his students in initiatives inside and outside the classroom will lead to broader inclusion "across other aspects of our society."

"They want to be in the space, they want to be included and they want to be successful," Allison said.

"It starts in the school. When their peers are seeing these students and including them, hopefully that will continue for the rest of their lives."

L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, B.C. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

'It feels good to be at school'

Grade 10 student Jagvir Toor, a BASES participant, said checking in with other students is the best part of his day. 

"You can make new friends and you can learn quite a lot," said Toor.

Toor told D'Souza that school can feel a bit overwhelming, but as the years go on it gets better and better.

"It feels good to be at school," he said.

Signage posted outside a classroom at L.A. Matheson Secondary School. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

But, as some Matheson students told D'Souza, interaction between BASES students and the rest of the student body could improve.

"I'm not exposed to any of the work they do," said Albien Mercado, who only sees students in the BASES program when they are collecting recycling or passing out fruit. 

Fellow students Isha Singh and Kunwar Sandhu echoed Mercado, saying they rarely interact with BASES students and know little about the program.

"We always say hi, but other than that, I don't really know much," said Singh.

'All that stuff that bullies do'

Brooke Woffenden, an education assistant who works with BASES students, explained to D'Souza that her students collect recycling while the majority of Matheson students are in class and therefore interaction is limited.

"They don't see a lot of us and all the work the kids do," she said.

And sometimes when the students do mix, the interactions can be unpleasant.

Ajaypal Thind, a Grade 9 student in the BASES program, told D'Souza he loves school but he has been taunted in the past. He said other students have mocked him in class — making weird noises and "all that stuff that bullies do" — which hurt his feelings and made him angry.

"I think they do it because they just find it funny," said Thind.

Students gather at lockers in the hallway at L.A. Matheson Secondary School. (Alistair Brown/CBC)

Experiences like Thind's are what the BASES program and staff are trying to combat.

Allison said his students do not want people to feel sorry for them; instead, they want to be included, engaged and treated as equals.

He said he has support from other teachers at Matheson to eventually involve students outside of the BASES program in some of their group projects, in order to improve engagement.

"If we end up having them pushed out, pushed to the sidelines, that just cheapens the experience for everybody," said Allison.

On this episode, The Early Edition's story producer Jason D'Souza shares the story of the kids who are overlooked at school. 8:43

This story is part of a series called Matheson, examining the lives of students at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, B.C. CBC journalist Jason D'Souza was given unparalleled access as he spent a month embedded at the high school in order to hear unfiltered stories of students today.

With files by Jason D'Souza