As an educator certified in teaching students with disabilities, Hilda Bernier knows how tough it can be to guarantee inclusivity in education for children, including her son Emilio. Now she and her husband Olivier are set to make a film that will help other parents and children.
All any parent wants for their child is for them to be included. But for millions of children across the world that's not their reality. Studies suggest that there are anywhere between 93 million and 150 million children across the world living with a disability, and around half of them are out of school.
In New York City, where I live with my husband Olivier and our son Emilio, just over 1/3 of students with disabilities graduate high school - well below the city-wide target for all children of 53%.
I became a teacher because I saw that people need to be educated in a way that relates to their experience. I was trained as an educator as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. Every year NYCTF runs an application process to hire new teachers who don't have backgrounds in education, so these professionals can bring their knowledge and expertise in different areas, such as science, communications, and the arts, among others, directly into the classroom. It was the perfect way for me to combine my background as a communicator and my family-ingrained love for community service. I am now a licensed teacher certified in teaching students with disabilities.
The year I started, they were searching for educators interested in teaching students with disabilities and English language learners. Coming from a Hispanic background, and having previously worked with a lot of people from immigrant backgrounds, I saw how teaching styles needed to be adapted to people's experiences.
Too often our schools cater to an “average pupil”. But we're talking about people; there is no average. Every child is an individual with their own skills and challenges.
I know this as both an educator and a mother. When my son Emilio was born two years ago, and diagnosed with Down syndrome, I was afraid and uncertain about what his future would hold. From teaching, I know how much children with disabilities can thrive in the right, inclusive environment, but also how many challenges they face.
My husband, Olivier, felt completely unprepared when Emilio was born. To an extent I did too, despite my work in inclusive education. I had never worked with young children before and the situations I was dealing with at the high school level were very different. I was trying to get my students to graduate, so they could move on and go into living their adult lives.
Emilio turns three next May, so he'll be moving on from the Early Intervention programme and starting 3-K For All., the newest addition to New York City's educational programmes. Here in New York we have the largest public school system in the world – any child can get lost in the system, let alone those with additional needs. We have a lot of homework to do to find the right placement for Emilio.
My husband Olivier is a filmmaker, and we want to share this story. He was selected for the Videocamp Film Fund 2018, supported by UNICEF, and awarded $400,000 to make a film about inclusive education. The film will follow our search for Emilio's school; from our research and conversations with teachers, experts, other children with disabilities, and their parents, to exploring some of the best examples of inclusive education around the world.
This is our opportunity to show how children like Emilio can thrive if we stop trying to change children to fit the classroom, and instead change the environment they are learning in. As a mother and a teacher, I want Emilio to be in an inclusive setting. I don't want him to be pushed aside.
For more information on the Videocamp inclusivity project, follow the website and social media channels