by Orah Raia
If you want to see inclusion and collaboration at its best, you've got to visit the Tulsa Trail School in Hopatcong, New Jersey. Marietta Spagnola and Rosalind Craig, teachers at the school, had a vision for their students, and after a year of planning, they made it a reality. Mrs. Spagnola is a general education teacher for the second grade, and Mrs. Craig is a special education teacher. Together they teach a class of 31 students, 24 who are typical and seven who have disabilities. They are assisted by a paraprofessional, Rose Shinn.
Two years ago they began to think about a program which would provide more inclusive opportunities for their classified students. They believed that these students would benefit from being with their non-disabled peers and vice-versa. They approached their principal, Mr. Joseph Memoli, and he gave them the go-ahead to try some joint time for their classes. Last year they did this on a part-time basis, saw benefits and pursued a full-time program. Once again, Mr. Memoli gave them the freedom to develop their ideas.
Mrs. Spagnola and Mrs. Craig had to tear down some barriers to accomplish this, including physical ones. A wall adjoining the two classrooms was removed to provide a large open classroom setting. This accomplished a great deal. The new classroom provides a larger space for both group and individual work. All the students have access to the equipment, materials and learning centers in both rooms, which include cooking, listening, art, writing, reading, science, easel, clay, blocks, puzzles, and computers.
Technology is Integral Part
I was fortunate to visit Tulsa Trail School on the day the teachers introduced their Internet access and a scanner to their students. Mrs. Craig sat down and accessed the Yahoo site. She proceeded to check the day's weather. The students would now be able to do their daily weather report by looking it up on the Internet in addition to relying on observations out the window.
Mrs. Spagnola then proceeded to scan a student's class picture into ClarisWorks. The students are writing to their pen pals, a group of high school students who come into the school on a regular basis to talk with the children. Now, in addition to writing letters, the students can include their pictures. Mrs. Spagnola asked who would like to work on their pen-pal letters and all hands shot up!
Both teachers foster independence in their students, and the non-disabled students are natural peer supports to their fellow classmates. One of Mrs. Spagnola's favorite comments when a student asks her a question is, "Ask three before you come to me." The students have learned to rely on each other for help. When one young girl returned to the classroom from a speech therapy session, her classmate turned to her and without prompting, filled her in on the assignment they were working on.
The classroom is fortunate to have four Macintosh PowerPC computers (with hopes of adding two more). Two of the computers were obtained through the district and two by grants the teachers were awarded. Additional equipment in the classroom includes IntelliKeys (IntelliTools) for spelling and IntelliTalk (IntelliTools) used by some of the students with disabilities, including a young boy with Down syndrome, so they can see and hear the words at the same time. The teachers incorporate work on the computer to coincide with the curriculum. For example, for a recent lesson on oceans, they used Imagination Express Oceans (Edmark).
While studying habitats the class used ClarisWorks for Kids and wrote Big Books about animals using templates from the program. They have plans in the future to integrate video tape of activities done by the children into HyperStudio (Roger Wagner Publishing) stacks which will be
worked on by the children, turned back into video tape, and then taken home and shared with their families. In addition, the teachers hope to obtain a digital camera. Plans are underway to make the computers available to families after school hours.
Reactions Are Highly Favorable
The response to this program has been positive for all involved. The teachers are thrilled and say some days their excitement brings tears to their eyes. Their colleagues have expressed interest in the program and Mr. Memoli is thinking about what lies ahead in third grade for these students. The parents of the non-disabled students have been pleased with the positive benefits this has had for their own children, and the parents of the students with disabilities have been surprised and delighted at the progress their children have shown.
This program is an excellent example of how two teachers brought about positive change through their commitment to children. As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Software Used by
Tulsa Trail Teachers:
ClarisWorks for Kids (Claris)
Co:Writer (Don Johnston Incorporated)
Early Math (Sierra)
Imagination Express - Oceans (Edmark)
Mighty Math Series (Edmark)
Reader Rabbit Reading Development
Library 2 (The Learning Company)
Stanley's Sticker Stories (Edmark)
Thinkin' Things 2 (Edmark)
Words Around Me (Edmark)
Orah Raia is a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at The College of New Jersey.
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