“Full inclusion is often necessary for a child to acquire appropriate social skills.” (Writghtslaw, p.135)
Inclusion refers to a broad system of educative philosophy which reflects the belief that all students should be welcomed members of a learning community despite varying learning styles and abilities. Within this system, inclusion classes become a style of academic integration. At Sappo School, the term refers to the integration or inclusion of low average, average, and above average, or Gifted students. The terminology, for the purpose of unity, refers to this model as “integrated”, often with an added indication of the term inclusion for clarification (NYSED Continuum of Special Education Services for School-Age Students with Disabilities, 2008). Respective of the more readily available research, the term “inclusion” will be most used. Within this model, students with special needs are educated in regular classes. The Special Education Student at Sappo is cognitively at least average and has mild to moderate delays only. These students are engaged in full participation along with regular education students. The diverse group population removes any barriers that may occur if a student is viewed as too different and unable to be part of the “general” population of so-called “normal” students. An identifying feature of an inclusive school is the continual presentation of peer reviewed research and availability of staff development opportunities to promote collegiality and strategic success.
The federal requirement that students be educated in the least restrictive environment encourages the implementation of inclusion for students who qualify (IDEA amendment, 2004). At Sappo, the student population is made up of both regular education and special education students. The special education student accepted at Sappo does not include those with severe needs or behavioral problems. Therefore, all Sappo students qualify and benefit from inclusion. Sappo also expects that educators accept the diversity presented within the inclusion class and support this with strategies appropriate to the range of learning styles.
According to the Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities, there is no regulatory maximum number of non-disabled students in these classes. The number of non-disabled children, recommended to be approximately equal, should satisfy the goal for the child’s need of inclusion. Sappo makes a determination of these factors as classes are formed. Sappo also offers other class models when appropriate or necessary.
Some have argued that inclusion classes have not been consistently successful, and in fact, have caused a great deal of confusion within the classes. Though it is true that more than the usual attention is needed to make this program work, our children are worth this great effort. Sappo recognizes the importance of advocating for inclusion to prevent the social harm caused by making people with disabilities less visible in society. Regardless of whether the students are working above or below the typical academic level for their age, these classes encourage friendship building and a sense of belonging. The reward for all efforts to maintain inclusion classes is found in the socially symbiotic relationships that inevitably develop. The special education student is able to improve social skills through diverse socialization experiences. In addition, academic proficiency for the special education student is notably improved when teachers apply differentiation strategies adequately. The special education student is motivated to perform on a higher level as he or she is exposed to new and improved work habits and participation skills through peer modeling, which precludes the need for often unpleasant and embarrassing reminders. The regular education student benefits from a heightened sensitivity to the challenges others face, thus increasing compassion and empathy. These students are trained to work along with their special needs classmates taking on roles such as peer tutor or counselor. The regular education student is able to reinforce what he or she has learned to the highest degree by means of sharing or teaching to others. Well trained Sappo practitioners guide each student toward success through a series of individualized strategies used with precision. These strategies flow throughout all classes as well as the less structured times of the day. This support allows the inclusive student to build both trust and leadership, resulting in marked improvements in self-esteem and motivation.
Sappo practitioners skillfully use scientific method in their teaching work through a research based continuum of study and training. “The assertion that teaching has a scientific basis means that educational researchers have accumulated, carefully and painstakingly, a body of knowledge concerning regular, nonchance relationships about teaching and learning. This type of research is difficult and time-consuming, yet ‘in the long run…is tantamount to the improvement of our children’s lives…’ (Elliot, Kratochwill, Littlefield, Travers, 1996). Educative practitioners are able to balance systematic instruction with knowledge of the individual child and appreciate that academic learning parallels the importance of friendship building and acceptance (Erikson, 1986), thereby becoming sensitive facilitators within the inclusion class. Specially designed instruction is adapted to the needs of all students, ensuring success with the curriculum presentation and standards (NYSED Continuum of Special Education Services for School-Age Students with Disabilities, 2008). Each student member of the inclusion class becomes strengthened as he or she develops lifelong skills that can bring lasting benefits to our society.
Sappo School provides an environment that supersedes problems that can arise with this program as it may be presented in a larger school setting. At Sappo, inclusion becomes as practical as it is desirable. The success of Sappo’s inclusion classes depend upon, but are not limited to:
– Family-school partnerships
– Collaboration between general and special educators
– Well-constructed plans that identify specific accommodations, modifications, and goals for each student
– Integrated service delivery
– Ongoing training and staff development
– Tri-level differentiation
– Accepting enrollment of only students who would be viable candidates for inclusion, therefore not a danger to other students or a serious distraction for others.
– Nurturing through structure
– Active learning
– Small class sizes
– Sappo Strategies
– Active research
– Team Meetings