Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Inclusion: Done Right, Done Wrong

Inclusion is defined as the practice of educating children with special needs or disabilities in the same classroom as their non-disabled peers. When done right, Inclusion is beneficial to everyone. When done wrong, the impact can lead to lifelong, negative consequences.

I have 2 children with disabilities. My daughter has always been fully included. She is an example of inclusion done right. Her teachers have implemented her IEP to the fullest this past school with wonderful results. She jumped nearly 2 grade levels in reading because her reading/language arts teacher focused on her deficit areas. Because all her teachers allowed her to show her knowledge in many different ways that put the accents on her strengths in the area of presentation and helped to improve in her writing ability, she discovered talents she didn't know she had. My daughter made the honer roll every quarter as a result. This coming school year she will be in a gifted & talented science class as the only student with an IEP. No it wasn't always smooth sailing, but her teachers worked with me and my daughter is the beneficiary.

I wish that were the case for my son. When one is twice exceptional-having both a disability and extremely high functioning cognitively, it is hard to prove that one needs assistance. As a result, he is being dumped into an inclusion class this school year without the necessary supports. I have vivid memories of his sleepless nights, high anxiety and struggling with certain areas of reading comprehension and writing. His teachers from last year claim there were no problems. He was just oppositional. There is a true concern that his new teachers will do the same. My son has learned not to ask for help because he won't get it. He has learned about the negative side of life at age 10. He suffers from depression and PTSD because of his experiences. If he received the needed assistance, he would not need weekly therapy or have other mental health issues.

I did say inclusion done right benefits everybody. How? It provides individualized instruction to everyone. Children learn to get along with many diffirent people and make enriching friendships. My daughter's friends see the positive impact on them because she accepts them the way they are. Her friends recognize that it is ok to have strengths and weaknesses. My son's friends look up to him because of his talents and knowledge. They stand by him when others tease him. Their parents have become my friends.

Individuals with disabilities are first people. We need to recognize that. We need to recognize that everyone disabled or not is entitled to a "Free and Appropriate Public Education." Children with special needs can be educated with their non-disabled peers. All they need is the right supports.

Inclusion done right or done wrong. Are you for or against it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Rethinking the School Calendar: Snow days

The winter of 2009-2010 will certainly be a memorable one on the Maryland school calendar. That is because we have had more than 70 inches of snow so far and it is still snowing. In Owings Mills, where I live, we have had a whopping 90 inches of snow. Yes ladies and gentleman you heard me correctly 90 inches. And remember I said it is still snowing. Old man winter is not done with us. After this record snowfall, the second this month, the weather forcast is for more on Monday and and then some more at the end of the week. Because of all this snow, Maryland schools are getting an unexpected winter break in February. Worse yet, most school districts have either already run out of snow days or will by the end of the week. Now I am sure you are asking why I am talking about this. Well let me take you back to when I was in high school in the 70's.

I grew up just northwest of New York City. Our school calender gave off on such days as Veterans' Day, Columbus Day and a whole week in February around Washington's Birthday. We started school just before Labor Day and ended the third week in June. We had the occasional snow day when the weather got bad and if we had more than the budgeted 3 days, we lost time off our Spring break.

During my brief tenure as a teacher in the Massachusetts schools in the late 80's and early 90's we kept to a similar calendar. Snow days only happened if we had blizzard conditions or an ice storm. I did some time in the Rochester area when I was in college. Now they rarely have a snow day. And then there is Texas. The Dallas/Fort Worth area runs screaming in terror at the sight of a snowflake. Well here in Maryland we don't get Veterans' Day or Columbus Day nor do we get a week off in February. School starts at the end of August (24th this year) and ends somewhere between June 12 and 17. Most school districts budget 3 maybe 4 snow days (Here in Baltimore County we get 7). Last year we got snow days for more than 5 inches. 5 inches usually led to a delay of 1-2 hours. Well this winter we lost 2 days in December for a 21 inch snowfall just prior to winter break. This week we have the whole week off because of a 30 inch snowfall over the weekend and another 25 inches today. I think we need to go back to a week off in February. Didn't the groundhog say 6 more weeks of winter?!