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Lessons from Inclusion Week last all year at Phillipsburg High School in New Jersey

Inclusion Week celebrates kindness at Phillipsburg High School
Inclusion Week celebrates kindness at Phillipsburg High School 09:01

PHILLIPSBURG, N.J. -- Phillipsburg High School in New Jersey holds an annual Inclusion Week as a way to get students to believe in the good in the world, and make sure every student feels seen, heard and valued.

"I think it's so so important. I think them seeing that they matter is just so important to them. No matter their differences, they get to feel like they're in the spotlight for a week," student Amanda Rapel said. "Which is so good for confidence and self-worth, I think it's important."

"Inclusion Week means opening yourself up to meeting new people that you wouldn't ordinarily meet," student Julia Buttitta added. 

The Inclusion Week events, like a red carpet and a big basketball game, dominate the school calendar and the halls, where it feels like everyone gets involved. 

"It means a lot, because they honestly look up to us and they see us as inspiration, so they want to follow our steps," said senior Wanda Brown. 

"It truly is hard to put into words, it's come together just organically. The building feels lighter this week, everyone's happy, and I think it's as equally meaningful for all students," said student Karen Stengl. "Our students with disabilities and without, we're bringing them all together to unite them, to give them as many inclusive opportunities as we can this week."

The Peer Buddies program is the centerpiece of the week. The 300 fully integrated special education students enrolled are each paired with a peer buddy, and they spend all day every day together as a team, bonded by their admiration for one another. 

"It's the highlight of my year, and everyone here, they just make it the best time, and it makes everyone so happy," said student Ellie Galusha, whose buddy, Emily Smith, added it means "a lot."

Walking the halls of the school, there are signs -- some subtle and some not -- reminding students to always choose kindness. From every corner, to classroom door, to a kindness chain that hovers over the entrance, kindness and compassion line the walls. 

"It's very special. It's a time to meet someone new, experience something different, and hopefully have a life altering experience," student Marvelous Shabi said.

"I get to spend time with Manny, who I knew before this, but some students don't know Manny, and I get to get the opportunity to introduce Manny to other students, so he gets to make more friends, just like me," said student Madison Holloway.

"Honestly, it's just been incredible," student Manny McPherson added.

The idea was hatched post-pandemic to bring kids back together, and has since grown into a groundswell of good. 

From red carpet events, to Peer Buddies and musical theater, they are doing it all -- together. 

"Together, we're better, right? That's kind of the motto," Principal Kyle Rovi said. "They're buying in to what we're selling, and it's great for the school."

Unified Basketball Game the big highlight

Students look forward to Inclusion Week all year long, but it's the penultimate event -- the Unified Basketball Game -- that's on everyone's minds all week. 

"We have like the big one where everyone comes and watches us at the end of the day," said student Patrick Leeper. "There's a party in the cafeteria where there's music and there's food, and everyone's just enjoying the time and celebrating."

"The basketball game, that's like my favorite part of the year. Just playing, seeing them have fun, just having the crowd here cheering them on, they love it," said junior Matthew Scerbo. 

Do they ever. The students couldn't stop talking about the electrifying event -- from the crowd and the atmosphere to the shots made. 

And then of course, you can't have an awesome game without an afterparty. For the Stateliners, it will be the payoff for a game well played and an inclusive job well done. 

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