I have always been a huge advocate of inclusion. I think it does so much for our students when they leave their self-contained classroom to go out and engage in a different-paced activity with a larger group of students than they are used to. It encourages communication and helps them increase interpersonal skills. And most importantly, it builds friendships that they may not have otherwise had.
My school is specific to students with physical and health impairments; however, we are connected to a general education school. When I first came here, I thought that this was the absolute perfect set-up for inclusion. I had all these huge plans for pen-pal programs to motivate my students to write, science projects that they could do in teams, maybe even a play or music performance that would bring our classes together (for some reason, every time I thought about how great it would be, my ideas played out in my head like a montage to the theme song for “The Wonder Years”).
I thought the resources just couldn’t get any better—but with budget cuts, alas, there are just not always enough people “on deck” to be able to send someone out of the room with one or even two students.
My students have been accustomed to staying in the classroom all day, and they really need to have experiences in other environments and with other students, so this had been weighing on me quite a bit. I realized that if my kids were going to get out of our room, they would most likely have to do it as a group.
I’m still really feeling like the “new guy,” and truthfully, I can’t think of many situations that are less comfortable than asking new teachers outright if they will use a chunk of their class and planning time to help me. This being said, when one of the teachers on the general ed. campus reached out and offered to help me with “anything I need,” I (maybe over-eagerly) jumped at the opportunity. Luckily, he teaches 6th grade, which falls right in the middle of the grades I teach.
We came up with a plan to have his students come down to work with my students two days a week for 45 minutes during their enrichment time. Then, once they feel comfortable and build friendships, I can start sending my class up to the gen. ed. campus for recess and perhaps some class time. The best part is that the teacher I am working with is so supportive. He brought up our idea to his class and had such an overwhelming response that he needed to hold a lottery to choose only four students.
We are starting our reverse-inclusion program this week. I have never hosted general ed. students in my full classroom before, so I’m kind of feeling like it’s the first day of school all over again. The plan is that I will conduct our cooking lessons, science/history games, and art projects during the new students’ visits. I’m excited about building a bridge to our general education campus and I hope that my students are inspired to visit the other campus and participate in activities up there.
Maybe this idea will catch on with other classes and some more pen-pal and similar projects can actually happen! (Cue the “Wonder Years” theme song.)