|The administrators who have made inclusion work say their best advocates are the teachers who have been successful with it.|
John McDonnell, an inclusion researcher and the chairman of the special education department at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City argues that inclusion has not been found to hurt nondisabled students.
"There really has been no effect on the educational progress of kids without disabilities by including kids with disabilities at the regular classroom level," he says.
In Auburn, Calif., about 40 miles east of Sacramento, administrators at the 468-student Rock Creek School are working through some of those obstacles. The K-6 school, which lies in a pocket of poverty within an otherwise affluent community in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, has begun inclusion of some disabled students in classes where the teachers are willing, but it has a long path ahead to become a fully inclusive school.
David Swart, the principal of Rock Creek, says planning for the change has been difficult. While many of his teachers have been enthusiastic about inclusion, others have expressed resistance, and he is unwilling to place disabled children in their classes.
"The question of how to change the system is what I'm up against as a principal," he says. "What we need to do is get out front to train these teachers."
Fourth grade teacher Toni Jensen was one of the Rock Creek teachers who volunteered to instruct a special education student. Although it's been more work, she says she considers him to be a valuable addition to the class.
But, she notes, when talking with her colleagues, she senses an apprehension about how to teach similar pupils in their own classrooms.
"They're scared, because they're feeling their job is threatened," she says. "They're watching me really close because their job is next."
Administrators there envision a system where aides help all students in a classroom, rather than just the disabled student they are assigned.
But finding funding for teacher training and other start-up costs has been a problem for the 2,500-student Auburn Union School District and nearby districts in the Lake Tahoe region, says Auburn Superintendent Vince Anaclerio. And the tensions can run deeper than just funding. Anaclerio says he knows of recent cases where general education teachers refused to allow disabled students in their classes, parents of nondisabled students protested inclusion, and parents of disabled students demanded that their children be included in the regular classroom.
At Taylor Elementary, a special educator is paired with each grade level in the school to coordinate services for the students with disabilities and lend support to the regular teachers. In addition, under the school's team-teaching and block-scheduling plan, the special educators also teach classes of their own. Most of the more severely disabled students have individual aides assigned to them as well.
According to Stone, the principal, the move in 1994 to full inclusion was not difficult because nearly all the teachers and staff members agreed that a fully inclusive environment would be best for all students.
"The give and take of people with a common goal is really how we made it," says the fatherly, gray-haired administrator, who proudly wears a sweatshirt emblazoned with the school's logo.
The school administrators who have made inclusion work say they've found that their best advocates are the teachers who have had successful experiences with it.
"A skilled teacher can invent and use materials in a way to help
Taylor Elementary's physical education teacher, Martha Larson, has become one of those advocates. She found that creating adaptive physical education programs for her disabled charges was not difficult, after she was given information on their physical strengths and limitations.
"Having a good eye--which is a typical teacher strength--is what makes for good inclusion," Larson says as she puts away the oversized plastic bowling pins and rubber ball that she uses for adaptive classes. "A skilled teacher can invent and use materials in a way to help both populations."
Her colleague, Francisca Jorgensen, found that any resistance other teachers felt melted away once she began to work with them. "Every year, the resistance got to be less and less," says the soft-spoken special education teacher, adding that a teacher's confidence should increase with each disabled student who is successfully included. "Every teacher needs to accept that they can teach all kids."
Second grade teacher Goss, a former special educator who now teaches an inclusive 2nd grade class, says the interest in Taylor from other schools has almost become overwhelming.
"The program itself has been a success beyond what we could have imagined," she says. It's also been interesting for the teachers, she says.
"Each year brings a different challenge because of different needs with the population," Goss says. "I cannot be a loud enough voice for inclusion."