Friday, April 8, 2011

At inclusion school in Massachusets, children with disabilities learn to advocate for themselves

From The Boston Globe:

The interview questions scribbled in the block-letter penmanship of an elementary school student were both profound and typical for a 7-year-old seeking input into the hiring of a second-grade teacher.

The first question: “Have you taught people with disabilities like me before?’’ The second: “Will we do math in second grade?’’ And the third: “If I find something challenging, what do you request that I do?’’

The questions, accompanied by six “good qualities for a second-grade teacher,’’ show the continued growth of Anthony Curioso (pictured), a first-grader at the Henderson Inclusion Elementary School. It wasn’t the first time Anthony, who has cerebral palsy, advocated for himself: Last year he convened a meeting of classmates to discuss alternative recess activities because, as he recently put it: “I was just sitting there and watching, and it was a running game, and I don’t run very well.’’

The outgoing boy, who takes halting steps and uses a wheelchair to travel long distances, is in his second year at the Dorchester school, which has become a national model for educating students with a range of physical and intellectual abilities, from Down syndrome to above-average IQs, within general education classrooms. The practice — revolutionary two decades ago — has become increasingly mainstream, though educators say it remains a challenge in urban school districts, including Boston, struggling with a myriad of issues.

At the Henderson school, where up to 35 percent of the 228 students have a disability, there are two certified teachers in every classroom — one in general, elementary education and one in special education. The school’s academic philosophy is that “it’s not the students who are disabled, but the curriculum,’’ and that it is the job of teachers and administrators to help students learn through digital textbook readers, visual arts, or movement.

“It’s a pretty unusual model,’’ said Patricia Lampron, the principal. “We’re teaching them that being disabled is normal. It’s about being flexible in your definitions of what students are able to do.’’

Anthony’s parents, Jackie Wright and Don Curioso, said that flexibility has created a safe and secure environment that has allowed their oldest son to flourish.

Anthony has a 4-year-old brother who is developing typically and will join him at the Henderson next year.

This is Anthony’s second school, and enrolling him meant he had to repeat kindergarten, a decision his parents said they agonized over.

But ultimately, they decided that repeating a grade was better than staying in a school where the only option was a substantially separate classroom or a traditional classroom that had 22 students, one teacher, and little additional help.