Adventist education directors from across the Inter-American Division’s union territories meet during during a two-day meetings to discuss and plan ahead to better care for student’s spiritual, physical and emotional needs across primary and secondary schools. Educators met at the IAD Headquarter in Miami, Florida, United States, Oct. 14-15, 2019.  Photo: Keila Trejo/IAD

November 18, 2019 | Miami, Florida, United States | Libna Stevens/IAD

Top Seventh-day Adventist Educators from the Inter-American Division (IAD) territory met recently to discuss how to better care for students’ spiritual, physical and emotional needs across hundreds of Adventist primary and secondary schools. Two dozen leaders discussed current challenges and plans during the two-day meeting held in Miami, Florida, Oct. 14-15, 2019.

“Our schools have faced many challenges and at this point it is important for us to move forward with plans to ensure we provide inclusive education to any students that enter our schools regardless of their special needs,” said Gamaliel Florez, education director for the church in Inter-America. The meetings are part of on-going annual “Paths to Knowledge” strategic meetings intended to improve educational institutions across Inter-America.

There are currently 955 primary and secondary schools filled with more than 167,000 pupils throughout the IAD. To ensure inclusive education takes place at every school is going to be a large task but one that church educators all agree must take place, church educators said.

IAD Education Director Gamaliel Flórez says plans are moving forward to ensure Adventist schools offer inclusive education to all students  regardless of their special needs. IAD file photo

Adventist schools to offer inclusive education

Faye Patterson, associate education director who oversees Adventist education for primary and secondary schools, said that creating awareness for inclusive education has already started at every union level and has to translate to the hundreds of school operated by the church in its respective regions.

“We have students who learn different, who have physical challenges, and special needs so we must meet their needs in the classroom and the school in general,” said Patterson.  Adventist schools are growing every day and many of their campuses lack proper ramps or elevator access to second or third level classrooms for students with physical.

“Teachers must be able to identify learning disabilities and reach students who need special education,” said Patterson.  To assist in that process across the territory, the education department has published a book designed to provide teachers with knowledge about students with special conditions and also to teach practical techniques to help them be more efficient educators.

Faye Patterson, associate director for education for Inter-America, says that the plan is for schools to have teachers better able to identify and address certain special learning needs in students. Photo: Keila Trejo/IAD

The book, called “We Care for All God’s Children,” describes the most common conditions that teachers face daily in their classrooms and presents helpful teaching strategies for class planning and other activities to better serve all students, regardless of their conditions, according to Patterson, who wrote the book.

“With proper attention, all students can achieve a successful, happy and fulfilled life,” said Patterson. That’s the goal, she added, so teachers will be better able to identify and address Attention Deficit Disorder, dyslexia, spectrum autism, vision impairment, and more.

Since 1992, the Ministry of Education in Costa Rica signed an agreement to have all schools have inclusive education, including five Adventist schools which more than two decades later continue to grow in catering to students with all kinds of needs, said Patterson.  The Adventist schools in Costa Rica have two psychologists on rotation to see students and refer them to additional assistance as needed.

“The work now and ahead in Inter-America is all about training and working with teachers, students and their parents to better provide the teaching for all students to really absorb,” she said.

The new book is free to teachers across the Adventist school system in Inter-America. Photo: Keila Trejo/IAD

The new book is free to primary and secondary teachers across schools in the IAD, and will be distributed by IAD’s Publishing Association (IADPA). IADPA is scheduled to distribute 6,000 copies throughout the 24 unions in the territory in English, Spanish and French.

Plan for chaplains in Adventist schools

Another need education directors will address more carefully is ensuring chaplains are trained to be available throughout schools. “Some schools have pastors functioning as chaplains at some of the church schools but many need proper chaplaincy training at all levels from primary to university level,” said Florez.

There are 300 certified chaplains already serving at schools but hundreds more are needed in the nearly 1,000 educational institutions, he added. Pay also needs to match the ministry of the chaplain at Adventist schools.

The Adventist school system in the Dominican Republic has district chaplains employed for three years now catering to the students across the 81 primary and secondary schools on the island, reported Flórez. The North Mexican Union has also been successful in providing chaplains to its 54 primary and secondary schools.

Adventist education leaders pose for a group photo during the two-day meetings at the IAD Headquarter Office in Miami, Florida. Photo: Keila Treja/IAD

“The chaplain’s work is about strengthening and teaching spiritual development to students, their families whether these are Adventists or not, ,” added Flórez.

The inclusive education strategy for schools and institutions also includes addressing needs with the support of psychologists, counselors and mental health professions, he explained.

“We continue to encourage our union education leaders to evaluate and adapt to the needs in their schools across their territories,” Flórez said.

Plans are to meet again with education directors in March and get dozens of schools on board with inclusive education by the start of the next school year period.

To obtain a copy of Inter-America’s “We Care for All God’s Children” book, contact your Union’s education director.

To learn more about Inter-America’s initiatives and resources for its educational schools and institutions, Click HERE

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