Do you know how to eat an elephant? No, it’s not the beginning of a joke… it’s a metaphor. In education, inclusion of special education students is the elephant in the room. No one wants to talk about it, let alone tackle eating it. But at Coyote Springs Elementary School, we’ve discovered that the answer is simple: You can eat an elephant if you break it down one bite at a time.
Nestled in the mountains of Prescott Valley, our K-6 campus is home to more than 600 students. Our school district, Humboldt Elementary, is in the midst of a 5-year plan to include all students in general education classrooms. While a traditional model would see special needs students in a special needs-only environment, we are turning that on its head for the benefit of our youth.
In our school, all of our students are part of the same classroom. The benefits are widespread for all students. General education students are able to practice empathy and being less fearful of those with differences. Special education students are able to spend time with peers who they can emulate. And the benefits are already showing – among students with IEPs (Individualized Education Program), growth had been stagnate. Now these students’ grades are growing at one of the fastest rates in Arizona.
A key element to any inclusive education environment is a quality partnership between educator and parent. Often the relationship can be difficult and finding a way to help parents and teachers understand each other is not an easy task. So, when Cindy Schulze of nevereasyalwaysgood.com approached me with the opportunity to co-host a video blog, “Inclusion Done Right” was created. In our vlog, we share our methods and learnings by casually interviewing the “players” that make the inclusive environment successful. It’s our goal to help parents, teachers, and community members understand why we’ve employed this model and how it benefits all students.
But this change didn’t happen overnight. Having students of all abilities together is a big change for teachers, and it isn’t easy. To help alleviate these stresses, we’ve shifted the school’s mindset through continued trainings. These educational opportunities help to convey the philosophy behind our changes, while also sharing best practices and strategies for incorporating special needs students into the classroom.
Having students all included in the same classroom doesn’t mean that any are missing out on opportunities. Those who are gifted may shift to a different class for a part of the day, while those with unique special needs will have their own individual aid.
It’s our goal to dream bigger for all of our students. We’ve been amazed at how quickly the special education students adapt to their new learning environment and it’s inspiring to watch how they grow.
One of our students, Jillian, has made remarkable strides since the change. Jillian has Down syndrome and spent her first few years in a special education classroom. Since joining the general education classroom, she’s flourishing in learning and confidence. So much so, that she even flew a plane recently.
When we have high expectations, we know they’ll reach those. The sky is the limit and we’re here to support our students, teachers and families in creating the brightest future possible.