The Henderson Inclusion School is one of only a few K-12 schools in Boston. The Lower Campus includes grades K0-3 and its unique design has classrooms arranged around a common central playground, protecting it from the nearby traffic on Dorchester Avenue. A mile away, in the former Wilson Middle School building near Ashmont Station, the Upper Campus serves grades 4-12.

At the Lower Campus, two third grade students were leading daily announcements for the whole school. I liked that they included a birthday greeting and ended with music for dancing! The first classrooms I visited had five adults working with students: two teachers, two paraprofessionals, and a therapist. With collaborative planning and problem solving (not always easy), this is how to make inclusion work.

Hallway bulletin boards showcased work students had done at the beginning of the year on appreciating the ways people are different, what “inclusion” means, and  “The Best Part of Me” – all topics connected to the school’s core values. Art teacher Mark Johnson had students drawing faces expressing a variety of feelings, while nurse Barbara Moran welcomes students to her cozy office with a doorway display to acknowledge students who lost teeth over the summer – and a rocking chair!

K2 teacher Jess Ellis led a group of children making a lower-case “f” in the air, while others used a variety of manipulatives to practice forming the letter. Jenn McCann and Christine McLaughlin’s first graders were reading in books or on tablets with headphones. Ann Marie Johnson encouraged her K1 children to take turns sharing something they were looking forward to seeing on their upcoming farm trip –horses seemed to be the big favorite!

At the Upper Campus, dance teacher Erika Schwartz led her sixth grade students in a choreographed routine, while students in Amberlea Darden‘s music class were helping one another practice on keyboards. A high school ELA class was reading and discussing Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe. One of the fifth grade teachers, Danielle Merdin, was hopping to the right or left to illustrate changes in place value when multiplying/dividing by 10 or 100 or 1000 – helping students learn kinesthetically as well as cognitively. Throughout the building differentiation for students with special needs was evident; in Connell Cloyd‘s math class, for example, most of the class was working independently on fractions, while a paraprofessional helped one girl with basic addition facts.

Perhaps the most exciting thing I learned at the Henderson is that the daily schedule in both buildings includes “Community Service” – during which many older students tutor in younger classes – something our K-8 schools could certainly arrange, especially those with an extended day. Please invite me to visit and highlight the learning going on in YOUR school!


Amika Kemmler-Ernst, Ed.D.
amika45 (at)