Aids Students With Special Needs
Being part of a school boosts success, expert and
by Zoe Hayes, 15 and Colleen Merkel, 18, IndyStar.com &
Y-Press, September 21, 2003
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Twenty years ago, high school students with special needs would
have been placed in separate classrooms, with limited
interaction with other kids.
Today, Kelly Kaser, a 19-year-old Carmel student with Down
syndrome, has a totally different experience. Her school day
consists of helping out at a preschool and attending inclusion
classes, where she works beside students without disabilities.
She plans to become a beautician.
Brandon Scott also benefits from inclusion classes. A sophomore
at Lawrence North High School, he was born with a rare condition
called quadromelia, which means he is missing most of all four
limbs. He plans to go to college to study broadcasting or
Sandi Cole has traveled the country helping schools develop
programs for students with disabilities. Cole, director at the
Center on Education and Lifelong Learning at Indiana University,
spoke to Y-Press about the principles behind and differences
between two ways of accommodating students with special needs:
mainstreaming and inclusion.
According to Cole, as educators have worked to create better
methods of educating students with special needs, they have
looked for ways to integrate the students into the general
classrooms. Mainstreaming is an older method of placing students
in a regular classroom. In some cases, these students did not
receive any special assistance. Conversely, inclusion classes
are general education classes where special educators work with
the classroom teacher to support the special-needs student.
Brandon and Kelly have experienced different types of inclusion.
Brandon participates in traditional Core 40 classes. If he
cannot participate in a project because of his condition, his
teacher gives him a different assignment.
"The one that stands out from this past year was my biology
teacher. She made adaptive projects for me. When they had to
make a model of an atom or something, she had me like write a
story or something about it."
Kelly has a different schedule because of the challenges she
faces with Down syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality
characterized by reduced mental capacity, among other traits.
In the morning, she helps out at Kids' Corner, the preschool at
Carmel High School. In the afternoon, she attends high school
classes. Because she takes only half a day of class at a time,
she will not graduate until she is 22.
Brandon and Kelly enjoy extracurricular activities. Both sing in
their school choirs. Kelly also takes a drama class, while
Brandon is on the wrestling team.
Brandon and Kelly both have individualized education plans. The
plans are created by faculty members with authority to commit
the district's money, staff familiar with classroom guidelines
and teachers and parents who know the child and his/her
evaluations and disabilities. Together, these people help create
a lesson and education plan for the student, which also includes
a list of short- and long-term goals.
Cole thinks the most important thing for special-needs students
in an inclusion setting is to feel like a part of the school.
She has conducted a statewide study on the achievement of
students in such schools.
"What I've learned no matter where I go is that all kinds of
students benefit from inclusive environments because all
students want to be accepted. They all want to feel like they
belong to a school," Cole said.
"The good things about the inclusion classes are that you make a
lot more friends," Brandon said. "I love to live a normal life,
have the everyday experiences that every other kid has."
"All the kids know me," added Kelly. "Our principal tells me,
'Great job.' "
Still, some people stare at or underestimate them. Brandon and
Kelly take it in stride.
"It's so rude. I tell them to stay back," Kelly said.
"I usually tend to say, 'I can do practically everything that
you can,' and then I just show them that I can do it," Brandon
said. "I kind of try to lead them towards treating me like any
Cole and others say that creating inclusion schools helps to
integrate students, which then helps them succeed in life in
"There is an awful lot of research right now that shows that if
students feel like they belong to a school, if they feel part of
a school, then their achievement increases," she said.
For schools interested in inclusion, Cole would offer this
"First, I would tell them that they need to ensure that there's
a commitment on the part of the principal and the staff to make
the changes. I would also tell them that they need to be
committed to invest in the professional development, and that
it's going to take learning how to do some things differently.
And I would tell them that there's not any one best way to do
it, that there are a variety of different ways that work, and
that they need to really design their school to be inclusionary
based on the kinds of things that they believe are important.
"For a long time in our history of special education, what we've
done with students is say, 'You're different, and that
difference means that you can't learn as well,' " she continued.
"I think we have to shift that to say, 'You just learn
differently, and it's up to us to figure out how to kind of
break the code to help you be successful.' "
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