Schools start to plan for inclusion

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Mather High School

Enrollment: 1,950

Special ed students: 211

Beginning this year, Mather High School’s 14 special education teachers have been paired with regular teachers in general classrooms that include students with disabilities.

“The focus this year was more inclusive opportunities for students with behavior disorders and students who are emotionally disturbed,” says Assistant Principal Sandra Fontanez-Phelan. “The whole staff took training on managing aggressive behavior and acting out.”

Some of the classes have a disproportionately large number of special ed students. For example, in one freshman biology class, 17 of the 25 students have a disability. Special education teacher Peter Zimmerman says the school would like to bring that down to 5 to 10 special ed students in a regular class.

Although even that proportion is higher than many advocates recommend, Zimmerman says, “That would be the best utilization of the team-teaching format.” To have two teachers in a class with less than five special ed students “would be over-serving,” he says.

Last spring and summer, special ed teachers conducted workshops for regular teachers on such topics as curriculum modifications and characteristics of special ed students, and the types of support available inside and outside the classroom, says Phelan.

Mather plans to use some of the inclusion grant to buy materials to enable special ed students to meet the regular curriculum standards. For example, for a student with a behavior disorder to remain attentive during a lesson on different geologic periods, “he really needs to have a laminated copy of the geologic table to hold and study,” Zimmerman says. Without that, his attention would wander while the teacher outlined different geologic time periods on the chalkboard.

In January, Mather plans to begin contacting parents of special ed children within its boundaries who go to school elsewhere.

Penn Elementary School

Enrollment: 758

Special ed students: 200

Penn Elementary School began inclusion this year by placing five special ed children in an early childhood class with 15 regular ed students, says case manager Charlene Jancik.

Next year, the school will expand the program to 1st grade. For the first half of the school year, children who are “mildly mentally handicapped and learning disabled” will go into the regular 1st grade for language arts only. “Then in January, they’ll go in for math too,” Jancik says. During those subjects, a special ed teacher will be in the regular ed class to help.

The school has 14 special ed teachers out of a faculty of 64.

Penn plans to spend its grant money on outside consultants and conferences dealing with IEP modifications and the like. It also will buy textbooks on inclusion and pay for substitutes, so teachers get some planning time, Jancik says.

Bateman Elementary School

Enrollment: 1,050

Special ed students: 105

Bateman Elementary School has brought in a retired professor from Northeastern Illinois University to teach a weekly, after-school class on the characteristics of learning disabilities. “The grant is paying the tuition, and the teachers are paying for their books,” says Darlene Sobel, the school’s case manager and guidance counselor. “They’re getting a graduate-level special ed course.”

Fourteen teachers are taking the course, which is one of four that are required for a teacher to get a special ed endorsement, Sobel says. “We’d like to be able to offer all the classes,” she adds.

Bateman has monthly meetings with special ed parents on a variety of topics. “We’ve talked in terms of the special ed process,” but not inclusion specifically, says Sobel. About 30 to 50 parents typically attend.

Next fall, the school plans to send information on all school programs to all the CPS families in the neighborhood. That way, even parents of severely handicapped students who are in other schools will be aware of what’s going on at Bateman, she notes.

The school is planning to start a books-on-tape library and to hire substitutes so teachers can attend collaboration meetings.

“We’re really on the road to doing this,” Sobel says. “We have brought a lot of teachers in our school along with us.”

Carson Elementary School

Enrollment: 1,200

Special ed students: 90 to 100

“We are giving the opportunity for all staff, not just special ed teachers, to leave campus to visit other schools and to attend conferences,” says John Stewart, the case manager at Carson Elementary School.

“To try and get everybody on board, we’ll have weekly staff meetings,” he says. “The lingo and heavy procedure that follows special ed can be daunting.” Stewart says some regular teachers already are using special ed techniques but, “they just don’t know the jargon.”

He says a stipend, perhaps $8 an hour, will be offered for after-school workshops.

Carson plans to buy equipment such as overhead projectors, an audio listening center and a multi-media computer that can be put on a cart and shared by several classrooms. “We want to buy individual chalkboards at the primary level, so children can learn in a more visual way,” Stewart adds.

In addition, the school will set up a reference library for parents and teachers, “where they can look up a quick behavior modification, for example,” he says.