UICS: Where Diversity is Our ‘Normal’

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Super heroes don’t always wear capes and fly through the air. 

Some of them wear glasses, utilize service animals, and use wheelchairs. 

United Inner City Services (UICS) happens to have many superheroes in all of our centers. We call them teachers. 

One of those heroes is Ms. Shunta Winston (Ms. Taye) at UICS-Metro Center.

Ms. Taye recently led an initiative in her classroom to embrace individuals with different abilities through a DonorsChoose project. (DonorsChoose is a nonprofit organization that allows individuals to donate directly to classroom projects created by teachers.)

“It’s all about inclusion. I wanted to show the kids it’s okay to be different.” shared Ms. Taye.  

This is Ms. Taye’s first year teaching with UICS. She wanted to use her personal experience and different ability as a platform for advocacy and learning opportunities for UICS students. 

“Knowing how I grew up in school not being exposed to people like me with disabilities, I knew the kids would have questions and want to know why I am in a wheelchair.” 

Ms. Taye explained she uses a wheelchair because she was in a car accident when she was 17 months old. 

“I don’t remember ever walking. This is my ‘normal’.”

Ms. Taye worked with her co-teacher, Ms. Danielle, to create a classroom wish list of items to educate their students about disabilities, diversity, and inclusion. 

“We have kids in our class with different abilities. I wanted to show them it’s okay and make them feel comfortable.” explained Ms. Taye.

Thanks to generous donors, their classroom received adaptive equipment for dolls with special needs, posters featuring positive portrayals of people with differing abilities, and books that explore questions about physical differences. 

Early Learning and Inclusion Director at UICS-St. Mark Center, Ms. Raina Davis shared, “It’s a NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) standard for every classroom to have toys and activities that represent diversity in the classroom. There’s so much more available now compared to what was even available two years ago.”

Through the addition of new classroom activities and discussion, the students have learned about individual disabilities, special equipment that is available to aid differently abled individuals, and how people of all ages with varying abilities lead fulfilling lives.

 “They really love learning about service animals.” said Ms. Taye. “We came up with names for our toy service dog and learned how service animals help people with different abilities.” 

Pre-k student Riley shared, “Service dogs help people that are blind cross the street.” 

“By teaching the students about people with different abilities, they are learning so much and don’t treat our students with different abilities any differently than those without. “ Ms. Taye offered. 

In addition to learning about people with different abilities, Ms. Taye and Ms. Danielle also requested items that represent varying cultures and traditions to complement their classroom’s focus on diversity. The students were overjoyed to open an interactive globe that describes different parts of the world and new books that discuss underrepresented groups and cultures.

Ms. Taye also expressed gratitude for UICS’ commitment to diversity and accessibility by disclosing, “When Porsha (previous UICS-Metro Center Early Learning and Inclusion Director) met with me on my first day of work, she asked what the center needed to support me and what they needed to do to the building to make sure it was accessible. That’s the first time anyone ever asked me that question in all of my jobs I’ve had.”

Ms. Nissa True, UICS-North Center’s Early Learning and Inclusion Director, also shared how our newest location in the Northland works to embrace equity and inclusion. 

“Celebrating who we are as individuals is a daily experience with photos from home with our families displayed. The toys also have different races and ability levels represented.”

UICS-North Center recently opened to serve new infant, toddler, and pre-K students upon gaining occupancy of a space formerly occupied by EasterSeals Midwest (ESMW). ESMW specialized in providing individuals with disabilities education, advocacy and resources. 

UICS’ assumption of operations in this space enables UICS to provide high-quality education and access to care for students with disabilities and their specific needs that otherwise would have been displaced.

“We offer medically fragile children an all-inclusive setting where their needs are met,” Ms. Nissa added. 

“The other children learn to empathize and interact with other students without hesitation.  The equipment the students bring with them is also included into the daily function in the classroom, making the students aware of other’s needs.”

At UICS, we believe in meeting people where they are and celebrating differences. 

Embracing what makes us unique in the world builds bridges, inspires minds, and impacts futures. By endorsing variety in ability, culture, and experiences, our staff is valued for their contributions, and our little learners have more opportunities to practice inclusion and develop meaningful relationships. 

At UICS, we empower our community of staff, students, and families to actively share and discover joy in what makes us US.