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Article of Interest - Inclusion

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Inclusion Aids Students With Special Needs
Being part of a school boosts success, expert and teens say.
by Zoe Hayes, 15 and Colleen Merkel, 18, & 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 journalism.

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 other person."

Cole and others say that creating inclusion schools helps to integrate students, which then helps them succeed in life in many cases.

"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 advice:

"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.' "

Who we are
Y-Press is a nonprofit news organization located in The Children's Museum. Stories are researched, reported and written by teams of young people ages 10 to 18.


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