Tuesday, June 8, 2010
School moves away from "coding" kids.
Forgive me please for the large number of articles I've shared as of late. This one was just too awesome not to share. It really speaks to integrating children with autism and other disabilities into normal atmospheres and the benefits that are seen in doing so.
School moves away from 'coding' kids
Classes integrate all types of students
By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journal June 8, 2010
EDMONTON - Tonya Roberts can't take her children to the park, because one of her two autistic sons might run away.
Toilet training was a nightmare. Seven-year-old Gabriel would lash out when someone got too close. At five, Layne refused to put his clothes on and still refuses to wear socks.
For a long time, Roberts felt isolated and hopeless. "I couldn't see a way forward," she says.
Then she found Crawford Plains School.
Tucked in the city's deep south near 42nd Street and 12th Avenue, it is one of 16 city public schools testing an innovative new program that mixes kids who have special needs into regular classrooms.
The two-year pilot project is part of an attempt to move away from "coding" students according to disability, then allotting funds based on the number of children with special needs.
Instead, a new report called Setting the Direction encourages the province to move toward an inclusive education system that puts kids of all kinds in one classroom. Alberta Education spokeswoman Zoe Cooper said the province will make an announcement Friday about its response to the framework outlined in Setting the Direction.
Roberts moved to the southernmost corner of the city from the north end so her boys could attend Crawford Plains. She gets choked up when she talks about what the school has meant to her family.
"The principal, Jeanne Carter, reached out her hand to me," she said. "She recognized the needs. Talking to her helped me look at the bigger picture."
Carter knows how Roberts feels; more than 20 years ago she adopted a child with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and waged her own battles to get a quality education for her daughter.
Four years ago, she and assistant principal Colleen Sayer started the process of integrating kids at the K-6 elementary school. Two years later, when the province started the pilot program, Crawford Plains was a natural fit.
"We like to think of our school as a good example of the motto that 'it takes a village to raise a child,' " Sayer says.
At Crawford Plains, one-quarter of the kids have mild to moderate disabilities.
The disabilities range from cognitive and behavioural challenges to learning disabilities and physical challenges. A class with 17 children may have six special-needs kids.
In the past, educational assistants sometimes formed a "cocoon" around special-needs children, inadvertently isolating them from other kids and sometimes creating dependency, Carter says.
At Crawford Plains, educational assistants move from child to child and classroom to classroom, helping special needs kids develop independence and build confidence.
The children seem to barely notice the difference. A boy with autism sits beside one of the smartest girls in the class, because they get along. Children at varying levels buddy up for reading and gym class. The autistic children have a special recess time and play outside with their Grade 6 buddies, who teach them to play on the equipment and just be kids.
"The skills that I've seen them develop, the empathy, the understanding, it's wonderful," Carter says. The inclusion and integration means disabilities begin to disappear, she says.
"Everyone just sees that everyone is on their own path."
The motto in one classroom is "everyone makes mistakes."
The results are often astonishing, and even heartwarming. Take, for example, the boy who has trouble remembering what order to get dressed for recess: snow pants, then boots, then coat and finally, mittens. Other children help him, every day.
"The kids are great about reminding him to get his shoes on, get this out and so on," Carter says.
Or take the autistic boy who loves dinosaurs and gets to colour in his dinosaur colouring book for a set period of time after he finishes a task. The other children remind him when his time is up, and help him focus on schoolwork again.
Ten-year-old Lynzee Kenyon enjoys helping out special-needs kids in her class. "It is fun to see how they learn," she says. "It feels great, because you know you're doing a good deed for someone who doesn't have the same mind as you."
For Tonya Roberts, life is still a struggle. But thanks to the teachers and assistants at Crawford Plains, her son Gabriel will stay dressed and can stay calm enough to sit in a regular classroom much of the time. He has learned to tell people to leave him alone when he feels he is going to lash out. Both boys are toilet trained.
"Now we feel a sense of stability," Roberts says.
"The kids have a sense of accomplishment. We have a sense of being part of a community, and I'm not isolated at home. Geez, I'm going to start bawling here."
Read more: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/health/School+moves+away+from+coding+kids/3125771/story.html#ixzz0qIliXwDO
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