Spotlight on Inclusion Successes

#InclusiveSchoolsWeek not only challenges schools to examine their environments and teaching practices but to celebrate the successes that lead to greater inclusion.

 

This week, empowerED will be highlighting inclusion success stories!

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Bobby's Story

Meet Bobby, a middle school student involved in cross country, band, and fully included in all academic areas of his seventh grade class.  Bobby used to be pulled out of general education for reading, math, and other subjects.  Bobby’s parents were concerned that he was falling further and further behind from his peers academically.  

 

Finally, a general education teacher said, “Let Bobby stay in my class for math.”  While inclusive placement should never be something that is at the discretion of a single team member, this teacher’s openness to including Bobby sparked a love of school in Bobby.  After transitioning to general education for math, Bobby exclaimed, “I’m smart again!”

 

Before long, Bobby was included in general education classes all day.  A peer said to Bobby, “I hear you get to be with us all day.”  Bobby put his arms in victory and said, “I win!”

Bobby’s teachers adapt his work and provide large print text.  Bobby also participates in co-taught classes.  He is thriving, attending general education classes just like his five brothers and sisters.  Bobby’s sister is in his same grade but the two have chose different foreign languages to pursue.  Bobby takes Spanish while his sister is learning French.

 

The successful inclusion of Bobby has led to benefits beyond academics.  Bobby participated in cross country this fall and made friends with students in other grades in his school.  He participates in the school band and is looking forward to starting drama club this winter and track in the spring.

 

Inclusion isn’t always easy.  When Bobby’s parents worry about him or try to intervene, like any typical middle schooler, he states, “Guys, guys I’ll handle it.”  Bobby is exactly where he belongs.

 

Post-Note - Bobby’s family was provided with a draft of this article prior to release.  When it was shared with Bobby, he requested that the following be added: “I love my friends and teachers and want to include everyone.”

Caleb's Story

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A difficult decision had to be made for first grader, Caleb’s, family.  After a challenging kindergarten year where Caleb received few accommodations and modifications in general education, his parents decided that moving their family to a more inclusive district in another state would be the best course of action.  Although no family should have to make such a drastic decision, and many don’t have the ability to do so, Caleb’s parents feel confident that they made the right move.

 

Caleb now attends a school in Colorado where inclusive supports are the norm.  Educators at all levels of the organization are open and supportive of feedback shared by the family.  Caleb’s mom reports that the district special education director even came to his most recent IEP meeting to thank the family in person for sharing a few trainings with her, which she then shared with all district staff.

Caleb is now receiving TRUE accommodations, and the supports that work for HIM.  His general education teacher has created a culture of belonging for Caleb within the classroom and truly believes he can be successful.  He is at a point now where he doesn't need a consistent one to one paraprofessional, a far cry from the year prior when Caleb was disengaged and running out of the classroom.

 

Rather than believing that Caleb needs to “keep up with his peers,” his teachers understand that he benefits from key concepts of the grade-level curriculum.  This helps Caleb achieve at his highest potential.  Caleb’s parents report that he just earned 100% on his most recent spelling test, has multiple classmates rush to say goodbye to him at the end of each day and, above all, sees his value within the classroom. 

 

Caleb’s prior school recommended a self-contained placement for him for the entirety of the day.  His parents report that, “his current school sees his value, sees his worth and have worked with us to help him learn, grow and truly belong. His speech has exploded, his academics have skyrocketed (he actually enjoys learning, now), his friendships have blossomed and he is just all around happier. The power of inclusion is REAL.”

Sam's Story

For second grader Sam, who attends a charter school in California, there isn’t just one thing that leads to his successful inclusion.  It’s the problem-solving over seemingly small things that affect Sam’s inclusion in big ways.

 

At the start of this school year, Sam was not eating his lunch.  Sam’s mom reached out to his His special education teacher, worried that his medication or another issue could be to blame.  Sam’s teacher investigated and determined the cafeteria was too loud for Sam.  After allowing Sam and some friends to eat their lunch outside, he is not only eating every day, he has made additional friendships with new classmates.

Sam’s team was similarly proactive in ensuring that he was able to appropriately demonstrate his knowledge.  Sam has ideas he wants to communicate in writing but struggles with the physical act/fine motor task.  His team decided that speech to text  would be an effective tool for Sam to use when writing. However, the small screen of the Chromebook presented another

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issue for Sam, who is visually impaired.  Sam’s special education teacher kept problem-solving and he now has a larger monitor on which his Chromebook is projected.

Inclusive education can seem overwhelming to many at the start.  Yet, Sam’s team is proof that inclusion doesn’t have to be rocket science, but it does require persistence and problem-solving.  Oftentimes, the solution is to simply think outside the box.

Abby's Story

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Two-year-old Abby enjoys everything most pre-school children do.  She loves Elmo and Sesame Street, playing with pretend food in the kitchen, and learning how to count during math centers at school.  Abby also has Down Syndrome.

 

Abby’s family is Catholic and having her attend a faith-centered school is important to them.  They felt a wave of relief when they received a warm, welcoming, and positive response from a local pre-school through grade 8 Catholic school in Pennsylvania.

When Abby’s family toured the pre-school, her mom mentioned that Abby might use an augmentative communication device, or “talker.”   The teacher giving them a tour replied, “oh yeah, we had another kiddo use one, that’s awesome!”  Abby’s parents smiled ear to ear, knowing in that moment that Abby would be welcomed with open arms.

After Abby enrolled, it was evident that her teacher did everything she could do to make Abby feel successful and included.  Abby’s classmates are very welcoming to her but her teacher noticed that they attempted to speak for Abby at times.  Since Abby is not yet verbal, the teacher provided her more time to process and encouraged Abby’s peers to do the same.  Recently, Abby’s teacher asked her what color her shirt was.  Abby signed BLUE and made a verbal attempt at a “buh” sound!! 

 

Abby’s Speech and Language Pathologist who supports Abby through early intervention services pushes in to her pre-school classroom.  She has been teaching sign language to the whole class and teacher. Around the room, posted cards can be found labeling items that state both the written word and the sign.  Abby’s teacher reported that other parents have reached out to her, saying how excited they are that their children are learning sign language.

 

At a recent parent-teacher conference, Abby’s teacher shared how bright Abby is and how she follows along with songs, arts and crafts, and was doing her best to keep up with her peers on walks outside. But what impressed her the most were Abby’s abilities in Math, Language and Literacy and Science Centers. She noted that even though Abby is not verbal, it is clear to her that Abby understands the lessons and can respond in her own way through adaptations. Her teacher shared, “In my eyes, there are no limits for Abby. I want to help Abby soar.”

 

During this same conference, Abby’s teacher reflected that when she was growing up, her close friend’s brother had Down syndrome. She shared how she wished the opportunities that Abby has now  would have been available to her friend’s brother.  Everyone teared up in this amazing moment where inclusion was brought full-circle.

 

Abby’s story is an example of how teachers with the right heartset, mindset, and the development of a skill set for inclusive practices, truly can help students soar. 

 

Abby’s mom, Vicki, is working closely with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia through the Rising Together Alliance to make Catholic school inclusion in Southeastern Pennsylvania a reality for more families.

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Julia's Story

After a year and a half of online schooling, Julia returned to in-person instruction as an 11th grader in Virginia this September.  This year, Julia’s team decided to do things differently.  Rather than placing Julia in co-taught classes as she had been previously, Julia was enrolled in IB and advanced classes instead. 

To support Julia’s successful inclusion, her special education teacher was responsible for collaborating with her general education teachers, obtaining lesson plans, preparing modified materials, and teaching her aides how to use them in class.  After over three months in school, Julia is an active participant in Chemistry lab experiments, is a member of the marching band and percussion ensemble, a participant in group history projects, and completes independent reading in English class with her iPad and online books.

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Julia and a peer learn that different chemicals change the color of the flame in Chemistry class.

Julia’s mother, Stephanie, shared:

“In our most recent parent-teacher conferences, the chemistry teacher and special education teacher admitted that they were both terrified at the beginning of the year. The chemistry teacher had never taught anyone with a significant disability and had no idea how. The special education teacher was terrified about having to modify chemistry! ...Both teachers felt Julia was doing well but could do more. So the two teachers have agreed to meet each week during their planning blocks and collaborate on lesson plans, modifying materials, and ideas of how to include Julia meaningfully.”

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Julia prepares for marching band.

In addition to Julia’s academic successes, she is thriving socially as well.  A peer who had not ever participated in marching band attended band camp with Julia to assist her. They endured summer band camp in the heat, performing halftime shows at football games every Friday night, and in band competitions on Saturdays. Julia is also heavily involved in the church youth group.  She has sung in youth choir, performed in the youth Christmas Pageant, and attended retreats and summer camps. 

These high school experiences have had a profound impact on Julia’s life. Without inclusion, Julia would not have received access to grade-level curriculum, rich extra-curricular experiences, and the development of so many friends.