October is Disability Awareness Month, and Radford City Public Schools had an Inclusion Day kickoff last week with wheelchair basketball games that all of the students in Radford got a chance to attend.
Several students and staff were also able to participate in the games. The news release about the games mentioned that the district was “hoping after the event students will view people in wheelchairs with the mindset of what they “CAN DO” instead of what they “CAN NOT DO.”
Disability Awareness Month is an excellent time for school divisions to reflect on the importance of doing everything possible to help each student reach his or her full potential. Every student can learn; it just might not be during the same lesson or in the same way.
There are all kinds of different disabilities, of course, and teachers make accommodations to help students successfully access the curriculum no matter what they may be.
However, everything starts with a positive mindset shared with the student. That attitude says: I believe in you; I’m here to help; you can succeed; you can and you will learn and we’re all in this together.
Whether it’s an emotional issue, a learning disability, a physical need, an attention deficit or anything else, having that staff member who is patient, understanding, knowledgeable and completely supportive of the student makes all the difference in the world.
The student feels confident because confidence in the student is continually communicated. The student learns persistence or grit because the teacher never gives up. The student is successful because the teacher creates a learning environment where success is cultivated.
The thing to keep in mind is that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some children learn to ride a bike quickly. They jump on, find their balance and are on their way.
Other children need training wheels for a while, practice with an adult holding on to their seat, but soon they are on their way, too.
The same thing happens with walking, learning math or finally becoming consistent with foul shots. Sometimes it takes more practice, a different approach and an insightful coach/teacher.
It is a sure bet that there are parents reading this column who are worried about their child’s reading progress. The student may be in first grade, third grade, seventh grade—actually, it could be any grade.
Teachers are continually monitoring student progress closely. Some divisions use programs like AIMSweb, Star or running records.
They have an accurate idea of where the student is performing at any given time. If children are not making typical progress, teachers will refer the student to a Child Study Team. It could also be called an Instructional Support Team, a Response to Intervention Team or some other appellation.
Often, the Response to Intervention (RtI) team/program has a three-tier system. For example, it begins with an excellent core instructional program in Tier One, with classroom teacher designed interventions like extra practice or more differentiated instruction.
This is where most students are performing. If there is adequate progress, the student is monitored; if growth is lagging, the student may have interventions introduced such as working with a small group or a reading teacher (Tier Two). Progress monitoring continues, and if there is limited achievement, the student may move to Tier Three, which prescribes more intensive interventions and could even include an assessment to further diagnose possible learning issues or the need for special services.
It is important to remember that sometimes delays are developmental (remember that bike example), and students soon catch on to concepts and progress, but if they don’t, know that teachers are continually monitoring growth and will move through that RtI or similar processes as needed.
Many schools also have Professional Learning Communities where teachers work together to analyze student progress and provide additional support or enrichment.
This could be a part of the intervention/RtI process, too (Tier Two, for example). Some PLCs provide “WIN” time (What I Need), where students work in mini-groups for additional instruction or enrichment.
There are support programs in place at your child’s school. The key to success is an inclusive program where the student can work with peers in the classroom and get the support necessary to be successful.
Inclusion works well with special needs students if the district provides the special education staff, professional development, and resources required to ensure proper assistance.
This column only scratches the surface of what your child experiences in his or her learning program. All students can be successful, but it takes everyone—school staff, parents and students—working together to create the type of environment where success is not only possible but expected.
Children just want a chance to have fun learning, be with friends and grow. Schools provide that even playing field where this is not just possible, but the norm.
All parents and teachers want to see their children be successful. With their involvement and appropriate resources, every child can and will reach his or her full potential regardless of disability (different ability) or any other barrier.
In fact, it’s happening every day.
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.