In September 2015, two Federal Government agencies – The US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Education – issued a ground-breaking statement: “…ALL young children with disabilities should have access to inclusive high-quality early childhood programs, where they are provided with individualized and appropriate support in meeting high expectations.” https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/earlylearning/joint-statement-full-text.pdf
That statement was meant to offer a vision of where all American children should begin: IN their local preschools, fully included. That was FOUR years ago…and we are STILL not anywhere close to having this be the norm.
We have a two-tiered system in education: special education and general education. Teachers are trained separately. Classrooms are set up separately. We perpetuate the myth that only special education teachers can teach students who have identified learning needs. Even worse, we perpetuate a message that one-size-fits-all in general education classrooms.
Neither message is true.
Before Google and a million technology apps, it might have been true that special education teachers had a systematic knowledge base that other teachers were not privvy to…but today that isn’t the case.
Get on Twitter and find your people.
Go on YouTube and search for engaging universal design for learning lesson plans in action.
Check out Instagram and follow Teachers of the Year…or amazing other teachers that you might not ever know about: https://www.weareteachers.com/best-teacher-instagrams/
Or listen to many fantastic podcasts: https://www.thinkinclusive.us/podcasts/
We live in an era of non-stop brain research…near constant developments in understanding how students learn and what makes a rich educational environment.
Heck, we even have a special font that was developed to help students with dyslexia…see that here: https://www.dyslexiefont.com/en/typeface/
So, WHY ARE WE STILL SEGREGATING STUDENTS IN PRESCHOOL AND KINDERGARTEN?
Students with identified learning needs that are identified before preschool are offered a chance to attend special education preschool. Because typical students are not offered this chance – the reason why Universal Preschool would be a game changer – the majority of children who go to school in school districts at age three are children with disabilities. *That means they are educated with a majority of their peers who have disabilities too.*
And, here is the sinister part:
Unless you have your child attend a typical inclusive preschool TOO, then your child will have the segregated special education preschool as the one and only placement that works.
This segregated preschool setting will become the placement that is recommended at the Kindergarten IEP meeting.
You need to have an inclusive preschool placement to demonstrate that your child can be successful in an inclusive kindergarten setting.
The 2015 mandate from the Federal Government is trying to nudge everyone forward.
They are sending a big message that the preferred placement is INCLUSIVE.
They want parents and preschool teachers to know that inclusion is the BEST CHANCE students with disabilities have…and they want to make sure preschools are listening.
If you are not included in preschool, the chances of you being included in kindergarten are slim.
Once the student is in a self-contained kindergarten, the opportunity for an inclusive placement for the entire rest of their school experience is microscopic.
Preschool is the Ground Zero of inclusion.
In March 2019, the state of California reaffirmed the Federal Government’s message: https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/lr/om031819.asp
Their words: “…highlight a growing body of research indicating that all students benefit from an inclusive, high-quality early learning and care program. The joint policy statement describes “inclusion” in this context as:
Inclusion in early childhood education programs refers to including children with disabilities in early childhood programs, together with their peers without disabilities; holding high expectations and intentionally promoting participation in all learning and social activities, facilitated by individualized accommodations; and using evidence-based services and supports to foster their development (cognitive, language, communication, physical, behavioral, and social-emotional), friendships with peers, and sense of belonging.” (p. 3)
There’s a lot of information in that small paragraph but here are the Big Ideas:
1) Gotta be TOGETHER with typical peers
2) Hold high expectations
3) Offer participation opportunities in ALL learning AND social activities
4) Use accommodations as needed
5) Use evidence-based services and supports
6) Work to develop friendships AND a sense of belonging
When you work to build an inclusive preschool opportunity for students with significant learning needs, magic happens.
The typical students with their childhood grace of fun and wonder, welcome everybody. They offer support naturally. They make adjustments freely. They provide unconditional friendship.
You start to see drawings like this:
We are BETTER TOGETHER.
The Federal Government knows this…the state of California believes this…we must get the message out: INCLUSIVE PRESCHOOL IS THE BEST OPPORTUNITY FOR YOUR CHILD WITH A DISABILITY.
Work for inclusion every day.
Our world needs all voices…all viewpoints…all children.