A seventh-grade student, with third-grade math skills, helps his team win the math tournament in his grade-level math class. A physical education teacher and special education teacher meet after school to discuss planning an activity in which all students can participate.
When individuals observe instruction at Gildersleeve, they see various models of inclusion, including collaboration, co-teaching, pull-out services, and paraprofessional support. Teachers and staff are expected to collaborate and consult with each other; students are expected to work with each other despite differences, and administrators are expected to support the collaborative efforts of faculty and staff. Inclusion at Gildersleeve Middle School occurs not only because it is the law, but because it is embedded within the school's culture.
For the last four years, the school has increased its inclusive practices by adding all of the necessary components of an inclusion model. Gildersleeve's progression from inclusive goals to inclusive expectations was a slow process with many lessons learned along the way. But Gildersleeve Middle School has now progressed from being a school with inclusion to being a model inclusive school!
Gildersleeve's progression toward full inclusion is comparable to the blooming of a flower. The flower starts off as a small bud and transforms into a magnificent display. During the first year, work toward full inclusion was done on a very small scale, much like a flower bud. This trial year was an eye-opening experience. First, the teachers were polled and asked about their beliefs on collaboration and co-teaching. As expected, the survey was met with strong opinions and skepticism. Gildersleeve started the process with one collaborative team that consisted of a special education teacher, a paraprofessional, and four general education teachers. The students receiving special education services were included in all of this team's activities and field trips. They were also included in the team's Integrated Language Arts (ILA) class, where the special education and general education teachers co-taught. It was a growing process that required care and attention.
The second school year was fondly referred to as the "War of the Roses" year. Gildersleeve added three collaborative teams, one on the sixth-grade level and two on the seventh-grade level. Again, all teams consisted of a special education teacher, a paraprofessional, and four general education teachers. All collaborative teams had co-teaching in three or more of the four subject areas. This was also the year that all the students receiving special education services were placed into general education homerooms. The school as a whole was beginning to realize that changes were occurring, and departments that were once viewed as separate were merging.
The year brought frustration and confusion for the collaborative teams as well as other staff and personnel. Gildersleeve was growing and changing, and the staff experienced difficulty with this growth and change while incorporating inclusion at the same time. The collaborative teams needed more information on how to simultaneously collaborate, co-teach, include all students, and differentiate instruction.
The struggle was so visible and constant that a plan for professional development was created to support and enhance the process. T/TAC was invited to support, advise, provide resources, observe and give feedback to staff. The staff was also sent to symposia and institutes for training. By the end of the school year, the collaborative teachers felt confident about their methods and continued to receive training. T/TAC recognized the potential and desire for training that the Gildersleeve staff showed, and invited the school to apply for long-term technical assistance. This program allowed select teachers from Gildersleeve to be intensively trained for two years. As a result of the training, these teachers would become collaboration leaders and trainers. In doing so, collaboration would continue to grow and flourish throughout the school.
The third year was fondly called the "Golden Year" of growth and blossoming because collaboration was running smoothly throughout the school. Students with mild to moderate disabilities were fully included on five co-taught teams. The collaborative teams felt confident to make decisions and execute plans that would support the collaborative process.
Due to the support of T/TAC, the school branched out and formed the Inclusion Implementation Team (IIT) committee. This committee consisted of special education and general education teachers from each collaborative team, paraprofessionals involved in inclusion, administrators, and parents with children involved in inclusion. The IIT committee was formed to support Gildersleeve Middle School's staff and community, provide resources and information, and assist in evaluating the inclusion process and progress. The team's first assignment was to create inclusion goals for the school. Through these goals, the team was able to address many inclusion needs.
The fourth year of inclusion at Gildersleeve could be called the "Maintenance Year." This year the school has a more developed understanding of inclusion. The collaborative teams are still in existence and are receiving support. The IIT committee is addressing inclusion concerns and working towards achieving the school's goals. T/TAC is still involved in a supportive rather than a training role.
This school year the IIT committee members conducted professional development for faculty and staff, providing them with the school's goals and vision for inclusion. The committee created a common inclusion vocabulary, information on how inclusion exists within a school, co-teaching training and strategies, inclusive classroom strategies and activities, and information on the paraprofessional's role within collaboration. A handbook was created, encompassing Gildersleeve's goals and visions for inclusion and all the information provided in the professional development training. This handbook was received with support and appreciation by the staff. The school has also conducted various needs assessments in order to reflect and advance the program to achieve a successful inclusive environment where all students can learn.
Gildersleeve continues to spread its inclusive message by having members of the IIT committee present at the annual Virginia Middle School Association conference and provide professional development to other Newport News Public Schools on becoming fully inclusive schools. Further, an inclusion brochure was created to inform the community and staff of all the inclusion opportunities available at Gildersleeve.
Gildersleeve Middle School has come a long way within the last four years. Although its flower has not fully bloomed yet, its presence is striking. Gildersleeve's goals for the upcoming school year also continue to grow. The ongoing support of T/TAC and Gildersleeve's administration, faculty, staff, and community will assist the school in creating inclusive opportunities for students with more severe disabilities.
The following are future goals:
Developing guidelines for placing students in inclusive settings
Offering additional dynamic professional development for collaborative teams
Adding an inclusion section on the school's website
Forming a department that addresses the issues of inclusion
Sharing Gildersleeve's inclusion model with other schools and the community