Inclusion may or may not be a part of your vocabulary when it comes to the school environment. As a part of specialized education, inclusion takes on many forms. There is no definitive answer to what inclusion is as part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. What IDEA does state is that students with disabilities have a right to be educated as often as possible with their non-disabled peers. The IEP team makes this determination. So, what does inclusion look like for those working with students with disabilities in the education environment?
In Poudre School District, educators have embraced and succeeded in looking past the challenges that come with learning gaps and work to be highly inclusive of all students. By remaining in general education classrooms, students are learning valuable skills such as developing and maintaining friendships, how to get along with people of all backgrounds, time management, how to communicate their ideas and work with others, and are provided access to core content instruction alongside peers. It gives students the opportunity to discover what they enjoy and where their passions lie. It is a chance to be exposed to a variety of people and activities.
Renee Ostergren, Integrated Service Coach and educator for Poudre School District describes inclusion as a mentality and culture, not a set amount of time. “Is every student a valued contributing member (of the classroom)? If yes, then the amount and time considerations don’t matter.” “It boils down to, do they matter?” She believes that inclusion in a team sport.
“When I’m looking at my students’ schedules in regards to inclusion, I try to look at the most interactive times of day. When will they have the most opportunity to interact with their peers and form relationships? There are times of the day that lend themselves easily to this, such as specials rotations (art, music, and PE), lunch, recess, and science/social studies – when students tend to be doing more group work or hands-on projects. I also work with the grade-level teacher to find other times of day, when students can be included in small groups, or have a job within the classroom.”
“The overarching idea of inclusion to me is that everyone is seen as a community member. That everyone recognizes that each person in their classroom, community, or work place, has something to offer to the better good of the group. I’ve seen this done amazingly well by young children. When they have opportunities to interact with people who are different than them, and are taught to value differences, it makes the community better. It always lightens my heart when I hear a student tell me about how well one of my students can do something, or that they’re excited to see a peer do something new. Inclusion really is a collective idea. It isn’t something that one person can do by themselves. It takes an incredible team that values this idea, and will work to see it improve, that really makes the community. Inclusion is almost a feeling to me – you know when you walk into an environment if it is there or not.” Integrated Service teacher, Rice Elementary School.
By modifying activities for students opposed to isolating them in a self-contained program, everyone is benefiting including staff. These benefits are a beautiful reminder that as humans, we are all the same.
Poudre School District Integrated Services Director: Sarah Belleau 2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521