CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - Inclusive education is when children with or without disabilities learn together in the same classroom.
But advocates say it's much more than that, it's the culture of the school from the teachers to the kids in the classroom.
"It's really just natural for our students especially since we start inclusion at the early childhood level," Mandy Keys said, the Inclusion Specialist with Cape Girardeau School District.
"You can come in a classroom and look around and you can't pick out every child that's learning differently," said Deena Ring, the Cape Girardeau School District Assistance Superintendent of Special Services. "Because instead of thinking about a child being disabled, sometimes we have to think about as being differently-abled. We look at the student's needs and try to tailor make it."
The goal is to put kids in the least restrictive environment to learn.
That includes making accommodations or modifications for special needs students so they can thrive in a regular classroom and not be separated from their peers.
"Think about the strengths and what every child brings to the table," Ring said.
"They have to know how to interact with people with different abilities and just diverse individuals," Keys said. "They have to be able to do that to be successful. So, by having students with special needs involved, we are building that culture and community in our school."
It creates a culture that can carry on outside of the classroom.
It's a mission the Cape Girardeau School District said is constantly evolving.
Parent advocate Brian Herndon agrees.
"Changing how we do education, rather than changing the kids," Herndon said.
Herndon said the first consideration should always be bringing the services to the child.
"So many people need to know this is the way it should be," Herndon said. "I truly feel that it's a civil rights issue because you take kids that have certain characteristics and you put them out of a classroom and it's not right."
He's an advocate for parents of kids with special needs and for some it's not always easy.
"By the time they come to me, they're frustrated with the system," Herndon said.
He helps to bridge the gap between the parents and the school district to formulate an individualized education plan.
It's a passion that grew after his son Nate was born with Down Syndrome.
He's seen the benefits of an inclusive environment for his own child.
"When they do have those friendships and they do feel like they're part of the group, they blossom, and they grow, and they learn."
"It's really a blessing for all the kids involved because our students without specials needs are learning character traits of being respectful, compassionate, empathetic," Mandy Keys said.
The Cape School District is taking inclusion beyond the classroom and into the community by getting local businesses involved by incorporating special needs students at Cape Central High School with various job tasks.
"They feel excepted. They feel accomplished and they have the skills and they know they have the skills to be successful after high school,"
Opportunities like this have even landed those students jobs after graduation, which is what it's all about, giving students the best opportunities to thrive.
"I don't think it's a mission that's ever done," Ring said. "What are the needs of our students. The needs of the students are going to drive where we're at and where we're going to go."