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South Jordan Journal

Mountain Creek’s inclusion play takes center stage to an audience of peers, VIPs

Mar 31, 2023 12:10PM ● By Julie Slama

About 30 Mountain Creek Middle School students took the stage to share what inclusion means to them and its importance through a play and personal messages.

“Calling All Leaders” was performed by special education students and their peer tutors in Karlee English’s class to not only their classmates and faculty, but also to a VIP audience that included Utah’s First Lady Abby Cox, South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey, Jordan Board of Education President Tracy Miller, Jordan School District leadership and others.

“I’ve attended hundreds of assemblies in my life, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen one done around the subject of inclusion,” Ramsey said about the play students performed during inclusion week.

One of Ramsey’s favorite parts was when the performers opened, saying, “When you see me, I want you to see…” and their responses, which ranged from a good sister, ukulele player and skateboarder to being funny, having a great imagination and being a good friend. One student even said, “being the No. 1 Utes fan.”

The next scene takes the students on a school bus ride, where nobody wants to sit next to a peer tutor. Eventually, a student said that wasn’t right and invited the peer tutor to sit with them at lunch.

“We want kids to know making rude comments isn’t OK, that everyone should be kind and inclusive,” English said.

The play moves to a PE class where a student missed kicking the soccer ball and is made fun of—until they’re reminded kicking the ball isn’t the only part of soccer and doesn’t determine if the player is a good teammate.

Students also demonstrated inclusion when doing group art projects. English said one group showed how they were leaders by inviting the left-out student to join their group despite knowing art isn’t his forte. However, those students learned he had a great idea which helped make their poster “fantastic.” 

The play ends with students recapping what was learned—not putting students down, including everyone and being respectful and treating everyone with kindness.

Throughout the play, messages of inclusion were shared—who inspired them to be more inclusive, how they can be more inclusive, how has someone made them feel included, and what can they do to include more students at Mountain Creek.

In one video, ninth-grader Penny Messel shared her message when asked “What does inclusion mean to you?”

“The best way to put it is, inclusion is having the people around you not care about who you are, what you believe in or who you love,” Messel said. “I remember helping tutor one day and hearing a student ask why they weren’t normal and all I could think about was how things like that need to change. Nobody should have to feel like they aren’t normal or they need to change to be loved — and how people not being included goes so much deeper than not sitting with your friends at lunch and being able to play a game with a new friend. It’s something that people need to choose to let you into. So, I guess to answer your question about what inclusion means to me, it’s having a bad hair day and no one batted an eye, talking with the voice you love and people still laughing at your jokes. Inclusion isn’t an action. It’s a way that we can live our lives.”

Despite their rehearsals being shortened by two days when the school moved to virtual learning because of a snowstorm, English said peer tutors, who took responsibility for the production, helped students learn and memorize their lines. 

“The students in Ms. K’s class did an amazing job. It was evident they had practiced and prepared well,” Ramsey said.

Principal Mike Glenn said the play helped “to understand and see the value that differences bring. We have a lot of different people around us and in this case, we highlighted kids with some severe learning disabilities. There’s a lot of diversity in that we need to learn to accept and embrace diversity.”

English, who describes herself as an advocate for inclusion, said many students could relate to the play—students who may be English Language Learners, or members of the LGBTQI+ community, or even a high-functioning student with autism, may feel it’s hard to integrate in the community.

“At Mountain Creek, we try to integrate every student in every experience so we’re inclusive,” she said.

Many of her students have been student body officers, held club leadership positions, played in band, participate in unified basketball and golf, and are active in other aspects of school life.

Glenn said Mountain Creek students are becoming more accepting., with peer tutoring in English’s classroom being the backbone of inclusion.

“We put peer tutoring on our schedule, and already we’ve had 70 students register and want to be peer tutors next year,” he said.

English said they see value in the service they give.

“It gives them a purpose and a sense of leadership in being able to help someone else and make a difference,” she said.

During the assembly, Cox talked with the student body about the importance of being a friend to everyone. She shared her background growing up with friends in school who had Down Syndrome.

“She was in a class with them growing up in second, third and fourth grade and she was actually happy they included her in their group,” English said, adding that Cox’s desire to become a special education teacher may have stemmed from that experience. “The kids were excited she was here, and she sat forever afterwards and talked to all my students and took pictures with us. She was great; she wanted to spend time and speak with the students. It’s nice to have someone in power has have a voice so people listen to advocate for kids with disabilities and inclusion.”

Ramsey said that English speaks up for all students.

“Ms. English is an incredible teacher doing great things at Mountain Creek,” she said. “I had the privilege of awarding her the Outstanding Educator of the Year Award for their school last year and after spending time in her class, it’s easy to see why. She is an ambassador and advocate for her students in the best ways and I believe everyone who attended the assembly left with better understanding and greater appreciation for all abilities. It really was awesome.”