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Singing a song of inclusivity

By Meredith Dault, Senior Communications Officer

Francine Young (R) joins Natasha Tan (L) at the piano (photo: University Communications) 

Francine Young stands behind a large wooden xylophone clasping a mallet. She’s smiling but focused, her eyes darting down to the keys before her, and then up again to watch her professor, Ben Bolden, as he prepares a group of about 30 music students in the concurrent education program to play a short, end-of-term concert in ”student street,” the main corridor at the Faculty of Education’s Duncan McArthur Hall, to show off everything they’ve learned this term.

But unlike her classmates who hope to carry on to careers as music teachers, Ms. Young has been participating in the class in a different capacity. A student at Kingston’s H’art Centre, a local non-profit, charitable organization serving people with intellectual disabilities, Ms. Young has been taking classes at Queen’s for the last five years as part of a unique partnership with the Faculty of Education. This week, she will see her hard work rewarded with a Certificate of Learning as part of the Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Initiative (IPSE) at the Faculty of Education.

“I feel really proud of myself,” she says happily about her accomplishment. “My first year when I started, I was kind of scared, but now I’m used to coming to Queen’s. I’m not so nervous. This was also my first time playing the piano and the drums and all that," she adds with a smile. 

But as well as expanding her own educational horizons, Ms. Young’s presence in class has helped her fellow students learn more about the joys and challenges of teaching differently-abled learners. While Dr. Bolden’s class instructed them on the basics of teaching music, they put those teachings into practice working with students like Ms. Young.

 Francine Young and her classmates perform an end-of-term concert in 'student street' at Duncan McArthur Hall (photo: University Communications)

“Having them in the class has helped us learn more about what to do when your students aren’t trained musicians,” says Natasha Tan, a fifth-year student in the concurrent music program who hopes to teach music or pursue work in education policy. “So we taught rhythm exercises, and things like bucket drumming…it really gives you experience in differentiating your lessons.”

Ms. Young says she has felt supported by both faculty and students in every class she has taken at Queen’s. She’s also had the support of a buddy through the student-run Social Transition Education Program (STEP). Ms. Young’s teacher at H’art, as well as their program director, Toni Thornton, says the students take Queen’s classes through a voluntary arrangement with faculty members.

“We don’t expect the professors to provide special accommodations, but we do help them get to know the IPSE student and help them to understand their disabilities,” she explains. “Some students may simply sit in on lectures, while others may be able to do some of the readings and assignments. In some cases, professors have gone so far as to write alternate exams for our students so that they can be assessed. There is a real range.”

 Natasha Tan and Francine Young play a bucket drum, while Dr. Ben Bolden looks on. (photo: University Communications)

Ms. Young says she liked that she could turn to her classmates for help when she needed it. “I always felt welcome,” she says of her experience. “They understood that if there was something that I needed, I would ask them. But I liked brainstorming and contributing my ideas. That was something I did a lot.”

Smiling from the audience as she watched Ms. Young’s performance on the xylophone, piano and bucket drums, Ms. Thornton says she was thrilled to see one of her own students performing alongside Queen’s students.

“This program lets our students be included in environments with their typically developing peers,” she says. “Francine was meaningfully included in this class. That’s an experience that a lot of people with intellectual difficulties will never get.”