Jacqueline St. Antoine is a dual-diagnosis teacher at Franklin Middle School. She teaches students with cognitive impairments and social/emotional/behavioral deficits. In December, she will travel to Tampere, Finland to present at an international conference.
“I’ll be attending the Art, EcoJustice, and Education Conference at the University of Tampere in Tampere, Finland. My presentation is on EcoJustice Education and Disability. EcoJustice Education is an approach to teaching that is concerned with an ecological analysis and pedagogy of responsibility to develop citizens who are prepared to support and achieve diverse, democratic, and sustainable societies,” she said. “In short, EcoJustice Education is an approach focused on relationship building, place-based learning, increasing engagement, and fostering community. It focuses on building partnerships between students, families, schools, and the outside community. Typically, this approach has not included individuals with disabilities.”
Three years ago, she and Amanda Meyers began Franklin Unified, a student-led inclusion program at Franklin Middle School. Franklin Unified does a variety of activities. They hold unified athletics during the school day to bring together general and special education students. This year, they are planning unified basketball and unified bowling. Each spring they have a unified field day.
Aside from athletics, Franklin Unified students create videos promoting respect and positivity within the school. They also hold an annual pledge campaign where students sign and commit to respect and include others.
“We have increased participation by 400% in the last three years. Students are motivated to make a difference, take ownership in their school, and to lead,” she said. “Franklin Unified’s goal is to develop pride in our students for their school community while promoting inclusion and acceptance. When students care about their school and their community, they are more engaged. Students can develop relationships that make school a safer, more joyful, and more supportive place. When families see their students as a part of a community, they feel more positive and invited into the school culture.”
St. Antoine’s students have started a class business called Nest Cafe where they sell breakfast and beverages to the staff at FMS to help financially support their fundraising and service learning efforts.
The staff supports the Franklin Unified effort too.
“This winter we will be holding a fundraiser for Special Olympics Polar Plunge – our principals, Stacy Williamson and Deena Pringle, will be getting taped up! I’ll be jumping into Lake Belleville this February for our team. We also do a community service project each year, which has been building and maintaining a memorial garden at FMS,” she said.
St. Antoine has taught at Franklin Middle School for six years and is in her eighth year with Wayne-Westland Community Schools. She is also completing a doctorate in Educational Studies with an emphasis on Urban Education and focus on Disability Studies at Eastern Michigan University and is an adjunct professor at EMU in the special education department.
She said, “The work I have been doing centers on the need for community-based partnerships, EcoJustice education, and democratic schooling to be more inclusive of individuals with disabilities. Wayne-Westland is one of the largest hubs for students with special needs in the state. We are truly leaders among low-incidence areas. I am advocating for the need to include individuals with disabilities in more community-based school efforts. Using an EcoJustice framework, I believe this is a real possibility.”
She is one of the very few scholars bringing together disability and EcoJustice education.
“I love Wayne-Westland Schools. It has been my home, and I am committed to serving WWCS. We are doing great work here. I want to do more of that important work,” she said. “Very few programs of this type are fully inclusive of students with significant disabilities; I want to be on the forefront of developing such a program here at WWCS.”