Christie Horton knows what it’s like to be both a parent and a teacher of a child on the autism spectrum. She says “making Catholic schools more inclusive is very personal to me.” Christie has been principal of St. John the Evangelist School in Carmichael since 2017, after having taught there since 2008.

When her son, Isaac, was diagnosed with autism, she and her husband Nick went through the public school assessment process and having seen the offer, knew she didn’t want Isaac excluded from the Catholic school and community experience. Deep inside, she held great fondness for her fifth through eighth grade years at Holy Family School in Citrus Heights and her four years at (the former) Loretto High School in Sacramento. It seemed only natural that Isaac, as the oldest of her three sons, would attend school at St. John Evangelist with Jack, now 9, and Joe, now 7.

So she asked her principal at the time, Tosha Tillotson, if Isaac might be welcomed to attend preschool there. Tosha said yes. He had a full-time aide provided by the Hortons’ medical insurance who assisted teachers with Isaac’s behavioral needs. Isaac progressed through transitional kindergarten, kindergarten and is now 11 and in fifth grade, and is independently learning with some assistance.

Christie presides over 280 students at St. John the Evangelist, from preschool through eighth grade. The school has 110 students in its resource program, who either have a learning disability, 35 to 40 students with an actual diagnosis, or students who are “just a little behind and they need some one on one small group work, which is pretty common,” she notes. The school has some students who have classroom aides the entire school day who are provided by their parents’ health insurance company.

St. John the Evangelist is one of several schools in the diocese who have partnered with the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion, a nonprofit based in Davis, the organization notes that inclusive education brings all students together in one classroom and community, regardless of their strengths or weaknesses in any area, and seeks to maximize the potential of all students. 

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