While the rest of the country is preparing to head “Back to School” after Labor Day, we are completing our SECOND WEEK of school already!
We have lots of exciting things going on:
- You can check out the ongoing saga of the “Frognapping of Froggy Mitzhopper” by visiting our website and clicking on the videos here. (I think my acting chops are rounding into fine form!)
- The MJGDS Marlins are about to make history by playing the first away game in our school’s 50-year history! You can order booster shirts by emailing the School Office (firstname.lastname@example.org) and can read more about the Marlins on the PE Blog here.
- Singapore Math Parent Night will take place on September 12 at 7:00 PM. You can read more about our philosophical shift towards a new math curriculum here and about our move to Singapore Math here.
- As announced in last week’s blog, my #NoOfficeDay will take place on September 13th. I am excited to spend my day with teachers and students and I look forward to blogging about my experience.
But what I really want to write about this week is a remarkable development taking place within our school – our growing ability to become the inclusive Jewish day school our community and families deserve. I wrote the following in a prior blog post at the end of last year:
“We have also taken great strides in our outreach to special needs families and in our current practice in putting together processes for dealing with the mechanics of delivering services. We take it as a positive sign that KoleinuJax has gifted us (in collaboration with Jewish Family & Community Services and the Jewish Community Foundation of Northeast Florida) the monies necessary to expand our program next year by allowing us to hire and train additional support staff in classes where we have children with special needs.”
We are two weeks in and “shofar so good”! (I only have until the High Holidays to enjoy my favorite pun…sorry in advance!) We have, shofar (see how much fun that is!), sent out assistant teachers to a Duval County training and hosted a training of our own for our entire faculty. We are presently meeting with prospective special needs educators for the purpose of scheduling observations of our classes and, then, targeting training specific to the needs of our children and our teachers. We have been meeting and communicating more frequently with parents of special needs students in our school with the goal of being as proactive as we can as sacred partners. And finally, thanks in large part to the hard work of two parents in our school, we are preparing to become eligible this month to receive McKay Scholarships.
The McKay Scholarship Program (according to its website) is defined as such:
“Florida’s school choice programs ensure that no child will be left behind by allowing parents to choose the best educational setting—public or private—for their child. The McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program provided over 22,000 Florida students with special needs the opportunity to attend a participating private school during the 2010-11 school year. The McKay Scholarships Program also offers parents public school choice. A parent of an eligible special needs student may choose to transfer the student to another public school.”
The Martin J. Gottlieb Day School is committed to doing its part to serve the special needs children of the Jewish Community of Jacksonville. Our eligibility to participate in McKay signals our desire to be in the conversation as a possible “best educational setting” for Jewish children with special needs. It does not mean that we are automatically capable of handling each and every situation appropriately. It does not mean that we are, in fact, the “best educational setting” for each Jewish child with special needs. It is hard to imagine any (private) school that can possibly claim to be that – there is way too much variation in resources, mission and children for any one school to be the “best educational setting” for every child. It does mean, however, that we have elevated ourselves into the conversation – we are invested in being capable to work with families to determine if we are the best setting, to prepare a structure for children to be successful when they enroll, to establish processes to evaluate our successes and failures, and to maintain healthy communication to take next steps as they occur.
McKay provides families who are usually already burdened with the additional expenses associated with special needs with funding that could make or break the difference between being able to afford private school tuition or not. It is our sincerest hope that IF Jewish families in Jacksonville would like their children to have a Jewish day school education and IF our school is capable of meeting their needs, that McKay will allow those families a choice they may never have had available until now.
Disclaimer: My wife is a special needs educator whose academic and professional experience is with “special education inclusion”.
I recently reviewed my research in this area and I think this link, here, from the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) provides good definitions, a concise history of inclusion, decent explanations of federal law, a fair framing of the debate between “full inclusion” and “resource room”, and examples of academic research. I encourage you to read the whole thing. But for my purposes, let me quote a few highlights:
Inclusion is a term which expresses commitment to educate each child, to the maximum extent appropriate, in the school and classroom he or she would otherwise attend. It involves bringing the support services to the child (rather than moving the child to the services) and requires only that the child will benefit from being in the class (rather than having to keep up with the other students). Proponents of inclusion generally favor newer forms of education service delivery.
This would be an accurate expression of our attitude and aspirations for the children in our school with special needs. (Please understand that GIFTEDNESS is a SPECIAL NEED. ”Inclusion” includes our philosophy of how we strive to meet the needs of gifted students as well.)
I am being this descriptive because I want to address a common concern – how will having special needs students in my child’s class impact the experience ofmy child? Or, won’t the teacher have to spend so much time focusing on the special needs students that s/he won’t be able to provide my child with the individualized attention we expect in private school?
First the research…
There is no evidence that the inclusion of special needs students has any negative impact on the academic experience of the other students if the classroom is structured and staffed appropriately. This is why the conversation about whether or not a school is the “best educational setting” is so important. We have to be honest with parents about our resources and abilities. We should never bring in a child with needs we are not confident we can meet – that risks harm to the child and to the class. Each child and each situation is different and is handled case by case. But with the right attitude, support, and training – we are moving to be more capable with more students.
So if there is no impact on the academic experience of the other students…might there be other extremely important and positive outcomes of having special needs students in the classroom? YES!
While researchers are cautious in their conclusions, there are some positive signs. In particular, students in special education and regular education showed several positive changes, including:
- A reduced fear of human differences accompanied by increased comfort and awareness (Peck et al., 1992);
- Growth in social cognition (Murray-Seegert,1989);
- Improvement in self-concept of non-disabled students (Peck et. al., 1992);
- Development of personal principles and ability to assume an advocacy role toward their peers and friends with disabilities;
- Warm and caring friendships (Bogdan and Taylor, 1989).
Do these not seem like the kinds of values a Jewish day school ought to live by? Would this not represent our highest aspirations for the moral development of our children? Does this not seem like a good way of making menchen?
We have a passion for meeting the needs of the Jewish children of Jacksonville – special or otherwise. One doesn’t have to choose between meeting the needs of special needs children or the highly gifted (or the overwhelming majority of children who are neither). Our work with special needs children and their families does not detract from our work with all of our other children and families – it enhances it.
When my daughter graduates (please God many years from now) from the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School and I watch her walk across the bimah to receive her diploma, my wife and I will surely be proud of her academic achievements (whatever they may be). But we will be even more proud of who she will have become having learned to love and respect all her classmates no matter who they are, what they know or can do, or however quirky their personality traits might be. And we will be blessed for having had the ability to have her educated in a place that doesn’t require families to have to choose between.