Inclusion and what that means.

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Rice Elementary School

As inclusion week wraps up its good to think through what inclusion means to you. Inclusion is not limited to schools, but it is generally where we devote the most time and energy. By definition, inclusion is the act of including or the state of being included. That’s a pretty subjective standard. Poudre School District staff and students were asked what inclusion means to them. Here are some of their answers:

  • To me, inclusion means that every student is thoughtfully planned for, purposeful in their environments, and valued as a part of the community. I also believe that inclusion can be felt, like a warm fuzzy hug – you know when you walk into an environment where ALL students are active and meaningful in what they are doing.
  • Giving each student what they need so that they can learn together.
  • Teaching students that it is okay to be different and to be themselves.
  • Truly supporting students in the least restrictive environment.
  • Helping to develop self-advocacy and disability advocacy skills.
  • Making friends.
  • Being exposed to lots of things I can be good at.
  • Not judging people based on what they can or can’t do.
  • Working with everyone no matter their abilities and forming friendships with all groups.
  • I love to be with my friends and to communicate with each other.
  • Coexisting in an environment where everyone is considered equally.
  • Connecting with others seeing their strengths not their challenges.
  • Being included and accepted, treated no different than everyone else.
  • It is an everyday practice. It is truly nothing special at Preston. Inclusion means collaboration. To do it well we have to work closely with peers and staff.
  • Preston does a good job with inclusion. There are not any classes where students are not included. There is not a stigmatism or labeling as different. I don’t even think the kids realize it is happening.

So, what does inclusion look like in a school environment? Laura Osborn

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Preston Middle School

from Rice Elementary School explained, “At Rice, students in the ILS program are included in their general education setting as much as possible. While they are not in there the entire day, we make the times that they are in there meaningful. I conference with their general education teachers in order to provide modifications of curriculum when needed, and to provide materials that are appropriate for that student. We send students to class with support so that they can have more direction in the classroom. Our grade level teachers are amazing about setting the tone and culture of their classrooms. They teach their students that everyone is valued, and everyone can contribute. That sets the basis for our students coming in, who may do things a bit differently. Their peers view them as equals, and love to share their successes with us.”

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Preston Middle School

Preston Middle School has multi categorical programming, supporting a wide variety of student needs, which allows for a good amount of support from within a general education classroom. “Our goal is to making sure students are viewed by peers positively and that they are able to work to their best ability in class,” shared multi-categorical, Integrated Services teacher, Amy Cesar.

Inclusion is the product of collaboration and hard work on the part of all educators who are involved. Inclusion is made successful by modifications, adaptation and acceptance.

Check out this great read from Renee Ostergren on inclusive competence.

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Preston Middle School

Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Mental Health Night at Poudre High School.

In recent days, Poudre School District has suffered unimaginable tragedies when two students took their own lives. An unfortunate fact regarding events like these is the frequency at which stories like this are told. Families and communities are left behind to pick up the pieces and make sense of the heartbreak.

DSC_0089Integrated Services’ social worker Derrick Searle and Poudre High School’s counselor Cassie Poncelow sought to offer support to the whole Fort Collins community. Together their dream came to fruition with The Poudre High School Mental Health Matters Event. Professional presenters from around the community volunteered their time and expertise for the open event. Topics such as “How to Help a Grieving Teen”, “What to Say, When to Say It, How to Say It, and What Not to Say”, “Hurt! How to Identify and Help Those Who Self-Harm”, “Recognizing Signs of Stress and Ways to Help” and “Ask a Therapist” are a few of the workshops that were offered. These workshops offered a unique space for the community to find information and support for a variety of topics.

“Cass took it to a level that I never could have imagined,” Derrick Searle shared about organizing the event with Cassie Poncelow. The event was the combined effort of 2 programs, Counseling and Social Work, that don’t often intersect. The event was made possible by Poudre High School staff and students who volunteered, as well as the numerous mental health professionals who selflessly offered their time. “Mental health is a huge concern for the adolescents in the community and there are a lot of adults that want to contribute,” Poncelow says.

Student Ambassador, Ayushi, chose to participate in the event because DSC_0093she understands the stress and pressure of being a teenager. The student leaders that make up PHS Ambassadors are a trained group who provide underclassman resources and support with whatever they are going through. The group tackles hard topics such as managing stress, sexual assault prevention and teen dating violence. “I love that instead of it just being a conversation for my age group, it is open to the community to help and hopefully alleviate some of the stigma that goes with mental illness,” says Ayushi regarding the event.

The Poudre High School Mental Health Matters event created a platform to start conversations that will hopefully produce a healthier community. It was a place where a father from the same neighborhood that lost a child to tragedy, was able to come and find words to share with his own children struggling to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense.

 

Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

What I Wish You Knew: Libby’s Story.

 

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“It’s just the way I was born,” she said so matter of fact.  Making it through the world as a 14 year old young lady is a challenge in itself.  When obstacles that come along with cerebral palsy are added to the teen years, you see true strength and resilience emerge. Libby’s confidence comes shining through when asked what she would like strangers to know above all else. “If you push yourself far enough you can do anything” she responded.

Libby and her twin brother James were born 11 weeks prematurely. Right away doctors knew that Libby had cerebral palsy. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, “The term cerebral palsy refers to any one of a number of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination but don’t worsen over time. Even though cerebral palsy affects muscle movement, it isn’t caused by problems in the muscles or nerves.  It is caused by abnormalities in parts of the brain that control muscle movements.”

DSC_0015At birth, Libby’s complications were more significant than her brother’s. However, at 5 weeks of age, James suffered a stroke which left him with extremely high muscle tone and the inability to communicate verbally,  among other complications. Libby and James share a unique and special bond as twins. She understands James and what his needs are, enabling her to help when there is a necessity. “I feel like he’s my age but I still watch over him more,” she shared. Twin life for Libby isn’t all unity all of the time. Like many siblings close in age, they argue and have a little sibling rivalry. Over the years, Libby’s parents have instituted different “birthdays” so that each has the opportunity to be celebrated as an individual.

Libby’s wisdom and confidence are far beyond her years. She has learned to overcome things that may have taken a lifetime for others.  After a tough 6th grade year with typical “girl drama”, as she referred to it, Libby learned the importance of keeping her head in her school work, refusing to get caught up in gossip and hurt feelings. She now has straight A’s in her classes at Poudre High School.DSC_0038

Along with maintaining her grade point average, Libby has participated in
activities like wheelchair basketball, swimming and equine therapy. The challenges of cerebral palsy are real and a part of Libby’s everyday life. Things most take for granted require more time and a lot of energy for Libby to accomplish. Her day is full of transfers (moving in and out of her wheelchair) which can be very tiring. Writing with a pen or pencil takes Libby extra time and attention. Libby doesn’t let it get her down. She uses all that life has set in her lap to inspire others. She hopes to inspire younger children who are in a wheelchair by teaching them not to limit themselves based on their circumstance.

Through life’s ups and downs, Libby has upheld her amazing perspective.  DSC_0043She refuses to view things that do not work out as failures but instead as a learning opportunity. For example, after a season of basketball she found that she just didn’t have the speed required to keep up with her peers. Instead of being discouraged by that, she smiled and chose to look forward to her next possible adventure. There is no doubt that she is already achieving her goal of inspiring both young and old alike.

 

Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                               Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                               2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Aquaponics at Fort Collins High School.

With the weather growing colder you may think the time for gardening is over for the year. On the contrary, Speech Language Pathologist, Colleen Reyes, and students at Fort Collins High School are extending the growing season. With the use of the greenhouse at FCHS, an Apple grant, as well as a grant from Whole Foods, several projects have been funded for students with disabilities.

The Apple grant has helped fund two projects. The first portion of the grant was used to purchase poinsettia flowers and spider plants. These plants gave students the opportunity to utilize the greenhouse at Fort Collins High School, with their peers, while building on their speech and language skills. “Speech and language objectives targeted in these two tasks included the following: biology, botany, and science vocabulary introduced to the students, as well as teaching the sequencing, following directions, community experience,  vocational and communication skills necessary for participation of  working  in the greenhouse,” says Reyes. Vocational learning opportunities for students include caring for plants, re-potting plants, root clipping, sweeping, washing windows and cleaning tables with independence.

The secondary portion of the grant is the partial funding of an aquaponics system for the greenhouse. The Aquaponics Source explains aquaponics as “the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in.” A grant from Whole Foods provides the funds for the growing system as well as the supplies necessary to keep the aquaponics system working.

Students are in charge of budgeting, shopping for parts for the gardening system, building the station and ultimately caring for the fish and plants. Students practice appropriate and functional communication through team work, following directions in a variety of settings and working with peers and the community.

The goal for this year is to grow lettuce, spinach, basil and green beans as well as an assortment of herbs. There are big plans for aquaponics growth in the future, but one thing is certain now – the students are loving their time in the greenhouse.

Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Boltz Goes Unified.

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DSC_0019Boltz Middle School has gotten into the unified spirit. In partnership with Special Olympics, Boltz Middle School is offering Project Unified classes. Four classes are being offered, 2 for 6th graders and 2 for 7th and 8th graders. DSC_0213
The classes are offered based off of staff recommendations and are designed for students with and without developmental disabilities, to work together to plan and facilitate events.

DSC_0068The Project Unified Classes provide an opportunity for students to develop relationships as peers as well as build leadership skills and job skills. “We always start class with a journal question usually encouraging them to self-reflection, leading to growth and leadership,” says paraprofessional Joy Mcneil.

The classes are student driven, with help DSC_0282from Integrated Service paraprofessionals, Braden
Ackley and Joy Mcneil. The big event this season was the second annual Project Unified Basketball game held this past Saturday. Students spent the semester selecting and purchasing concession stand products, designing uniforms, creating fliers, and producing video DSC_0014advertisements to be shown on the morning announcements. Students went so far as to contactDSC_0046 the Denver Nuggets to request someone attend the event. Graciously, Nuggets coach and Community Ambassador Mark Randall made the trip from DSC_0240Denver to be a guest coach for one of the teams. Students also organized a half time game of crab-walk soccer, consisting of Coach Randall, players and DSC_0167students from the audience. Before heading back home, Coach Randall presented Boltz Middle School with a signed basketball andDSC_0056 high praise. He doted on the school for starting programs of unity early, instead of waiting until high school level where they are more common. The evening wrapped up with a full gym dance party. The perfect ending to a great evening.

Boltz Middle School staff have done a great service to students by providing these Project Unified Classes. In turn, students are making life long memories in a fun and unique way that they can take pride in.

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* Integrated Services would like to thank you to Coach Randall for his participation and support!

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Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

What I Wish You Knew: Tyler’s Story.

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When asked “if there was anything you could share with the world, what would it be”, Tyler didn’t hesitate. “I wish people knew that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. Everyone knows that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.” This subject hits very close to home for Tyler and his family.

In his 15 years of life Tyler has endured a lot. At the age of 8, while in the prime of his mini-cup driving career, Tyler became ill with what the family thought was a stomach bug. When his throwing up persisted, he was tested and the results came back with the dreaded “C” word. Tyler was diagnosed with Medulloblastoma, the most common brain tumor found in children. His particular type of cancer accounts for 18% of all pediatric brain tumors, according to the American Brain Tumor Association.

Tyler’s first course of treatment was an 8 hour surgery to remove tumors. Surgery was followed by 31 rounds of radiation and 9 major chemo treatment over 15 months. The cancer treatments were extremely hard on his body. “He would cry in his sleep because it hurt so much,” says Carrie, Tyler’s mom. While Tyler’s memories of the grueling months of treatment are hazy, he can still recall the pain.

Cancer 2So this brave young man has made it his personal mission to educate his community about Childhood Cancer. It comes down to simple math; the more awareness there is for cancer in children, the more donations and funding are given. The more donations and funding that occur, the more research happens and treatment options are created, equaling more opportunities for sick and dying children. According to the I Care I Cure Childhood Cancer Foundation, each year in the United States 13,500 children, age 19 and under, are diagnosed with cancer. Each day 36 children are diagnosed. These numbers all add up to cancer being the leading cause of death among children under of the age of 15 in the United States. Despite having a gentle voice, Tyler is doing all that he can to assure that his message is heard. In September, with the help of Fort Collins High School Speech and Language Clinician, Colleen Reyes, Tyler shared his cause at school.  He set up a table where he passed out free yellow ribbons to raise awareness among his peers and school staff about Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Cancer has shaped Tyler in a profound way. Like many cancer survivors, there are side effects that accompany treatment.  Tyler’s pituitary gland was damaged from treatment, which requires that take medications for the rest of his life, one of which is hormone replacement. With treatment he will continue to grow, however it will occur at a slower rate than his peers. Sometimes peers don’t understand why Tyler is smaller and can be unkind.  With strength and determination Tyler uses his experience to educate people and fight for his fellow cancer patients.

After a fight for his life, Tyler is now cancer free!  As a cancer survivor, Tyler is plagued by the constant fear of cancer reoccurring. “The hardest part of having cancer was to deal with having friends going through it,” said Tyler. “He watched a lot of friends die,” added Carrie. Tyler’s first friend he battled cancer with was recently diagnosed with a reoccurrence of cancer after 5 years being clear. “(It’s) hard to not know what is going to happen and what is in the future,” shared Tyler.


 Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before Tyler found himself in another fight for his life. When Tyler was 5 years old he starting racing mini-cup cars competitively. “He was really good!” shared mom Carrie.  While he was going through his cancer treatment the racing community rallied around him as one of their own. It was no surprise that as soon as his body was up to it, Tyler jumped back into the driver’s seat. The first race back, after winning the fight with cancer, Tyler suffered a car accident that left him in a coma. Six days after his accident, Tyler woke in a hospital with no memory of what had happened. As a result of the accident he suffered a traumatic brain injury. He spent 6 weeks in the hospital, re-learning basic skills such as walking, eating and much more. Tyler has new struggles and is figuring out how to live life under a new set of circumstances, but the 15 year old is forging ahead. His strength, courage and true selflessness in the face of adversity are inspiring and something we can all strive to achieve.photo 1

The Morgan Adams Foundation and Miracle Party are a few of the organizations Tyler supports in his quest to bring awareness.

Poudre School District Integrated Services                                                                Director: Sarah Belleau                                                                                                2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521