Teachers and school staff trained on how to meet special needs
By Marcy Stamper
Including all students in regular classroom and extracurricular activities benefits all of them, even if some students may require assistance to participate fully.
That was the core message at the professional-development day at the Methow Valley School District on Friday (March 11), as teachers, paraeducators and administrators work on how they want special education to look as the schools refine their approach to teaching and learning.
Developing a philosophy and approach to special education is a required part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, said Anne Andersen, the district’s IB coordinator. “It’s essentially an agreement among educators about how special education will work with the IB program,” she said.
The district is in the candidacy phase for two IB programs, for students from kindergarten through 10th grade. IB emphasizes multidisciplinary lessons and learning through hands-on projects, and encourages students to pose questions about what they want to learn.
At their professional day, faculty members heard a presentation about providing the least-restrictive environment and removing barriers for students with special needs.
Robin Kirkpatrick, the regional instructional services coordinator with the North Central Educational Service District, provided examples of resources and adaptive tools that can help students succeed. The range of tools — highly individualized and often sparked by the teacher’s creativity — can include audio books, pictorial aids, relaxation techniques, color-coded binders, or pairing a student with a classmate.
Kirkpatrick described 35 years of research that shows that students with special needs or disabilities benefit from being in class with their grade-level peers. Moreover, their classmates benefit by learning other ways of viewing the world and by collaborating with fellow students, she said. Benefits are seen not only in academics, but also in social and physical development, she said.
IB celebrates diversity on all levels and organizes schools to take advantage of that, said Kirkpatrick. “The IB supports the premise that schools should be organized in such a way that student diversity of all kinds can be included as a resource, seeing individual differences not as problems to be fixed, but as opportunities for enriched learning,” according to an IB publication on special education that was distributed at the professional day.
While the goal is to educate students in the least-restrictive environment, that can include individualized instruction to help students in areas where they face specific challenges. “The law is all about individualization to the greatest extent possible,” said Adrian Chavey, a special education teacher in the district. Ideally, teachers and specialists who are part of a student’s education work together to plan appropriate lessons and materials.
That team includes paraprofessionals, who work with students one-on-one or in small groups to help with reading, writing or specific needs, said Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable. These educators play an important role, but there has not always been time or funding to provide comprehensive, specialized training for them, he said. Paraeducators also don’t have regular planning periods.
This year, the district has set aside some funding to include the paraeducators in training such as last week’s professional day. The budget currently under review for next year includes weekly planning time for paraprofessionals, as well as time for them to meet regularly with teachers to so they can work together most effectively, said Venable.
The professional day was the first of several the district expects to hold to develop programs and a focus for special education. The district is also forming an advisory committee of parents of students receiving special services so that they can work more closely with teachers to meet students’ needs.
The district plans to hold a similar session for parents about inclusion and support for students receiving special-ed services.