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Building Community at Rainier Beach with Inclusion

Summary: Rainier Beach teachers continue to build a community where everyone is accepted, cared for, and provided every opportunity to succeed.

On a typical school day, students receiving special education services at Rainier Beach High School can be found creating a short film, whipping up delicious treats in a cooking class, participating in Associated Student Body senate, or out in the community learning important life and job skills—all in addition to their general education.  

Special Education Teacher Kevin Hiller and Special Education Instructional Assistant Marcus Daniels work hard to make sure their students receive every opportunity to learn and build skills that will lead to independence once they’ve graduated from high school.

“Our goal is to make sure everybody is as independent as they can be,” Hiller said. “We want everybody to be doing as much as they can and as much as they’re able.” 

A version of the current Rainier Beach High School special education program—conceptualized and implemented in part by Daniels—began at the school almost 10 years ago.  

“Mr. Daniels…was critical at making sure the students in this classroom had vocational opportunities,” Hiller said. “We’ve slowly been building [the curriculum] up and creating the kind of program we have now but it took time, and if it wasn’t for folks like Mr. Daniels, there’s no way it would have happened.” 

Hiller and Daniels pose for a photo in a school hallway
Marcus Daniels (left) and Kevin Hiller (right)

Before Rainier Beach, Daniels was a substitute at BRIDGES, an off-campus program, for students ages 18-21 who received special education services throughout high school. Bridges provides students the opportunity to learn crucial work and life skills to help them lead an independent life after high school.  

When Daniels began working with students at Rainier Beach, he saw the need for a dynamic special education learning environment that prepared students for life beyond high school. He brought his knowledge of the Bridges program to the school and created opportunities for students to seamlessly transition to BRIDGES.  

Although Daniels had a huge hand at bringing learning opportunities to students, he gives a lot of credit to Hiller.  

“When Mr. Hiller came on it was like ‘BOOM!’ Everything just started happening and falling into place when he came [to Rainier Beach],” Daniels said. “We all worked together and built a really good environment for the students.”  

Hiller, who has been an educator for 19 years and a special education instructor for more than 14 years, started at Rainier Beach in 2015.  

Daniels credits Hiller for making sure students were involved in general education classes such as art, ceramics, gym, computer class, music and much more.  

“Prior to that, they weren’t getting the inclusion they needed. Diversity is so important and that includes everything: ethnicity, gender identity, religion, socioeconomic status, and intellectual functioning,” Hiller said. “The students in here benefit from being in gen ed classes and the gen ed students benefit by these kids being there. That’s a win-win.” 

Although the two educators have made great strides with the special education program, the pandemic caused many setbacks. 

Prior to the pandemic, students played on a Special Olympics basketball team, took swimming lessons, and worked at a local farm and foodbank to learn critical communication and work skills.  

“The goal is to reestablish a lot of those things that we had in place before the pandemic happened,” Hiller said. “Everything can’t start up all at once. Slowly but surely, we’ll get back.” 

Although students can’t participate in all the activities they were involved with in the past, they’re still finding ways to help in the community. They continue to visit Safeway once a week to learn about the store, work on go-backs, and practice communicating with others.  

The most important part of the trip, according to the students, is the drink and donut they get for their help.  

Hiller and Daniels have proven that no matter what obstacles are presented, they’ll continue to build a community where everyone is accepted, cared for, and provided every opportunity to succeed.  

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