She is a member
of the faculty at Concord High School -- both special-ed
and conventional teachers -- who are committed to blurring the
line between regular and special-ed students to the extent that
they are indistinguishable one from the other. As the young man
in the mall demonstrated, pretty much as a matter of course,
that is happening faster than many parents, teachers and other
observers elsewhere think possible.
There are no
longer any hyphenated students at Concord -- "just Concord
students," said principal Mark Holodick.
He admits to
having been "somewhat reluctant" when, soon after becoming
principal in 2005, Susan Krikelis approached him with what
seemed like a revolutionary idea: Instead of special-ed
teachers conducting their own classes, they would operate with
no set schedules 'co-teaching' classes into which special-ed
students were integrated.
however, to give it a try and now the arrangement is the norm.
"I support both the [regular-education] teacher and the student
without being in each class every day," Krikelis said.
the effect of bringing special education a full 180°
from where, not too long ago, virtually everyone thought it
in 1975 declared that youngsters with disabilities were entitled
to and should receive public-school educations, school districts
all over the country scrambled to create niches for them. Until
a little over a decade ago, the Brandywine district operated an
'intensive learning center' in the building which now houses
Springer Middle School. After it was closed in 1994, special-ed
students were dispersed among district schools, but were taught
in isolated classrooms. They, in effect, attended a 'school
within a school' and generally had limited contact with their
peers on conventional learning tracks.
Ann Hilkert, the
district's director of pupil services, said there can be no
justification for such segregation.
disabilities have a right to be in a [conventional] classroom.
They have a right to services to level the playing field. They
don't have to earn those rights," she said. The only
question, she added, is whether they can be served in a
At Concord, all
but eight of 112 special-ed students are now served in
conventional classrooms. Those eight are in the community-based
life-skills program. But they, too, are considered full-fledged
Concord students and have access to extra-curricular and other
Hilkert said Concord is a leader,
in both the state and the region, in providing inclusive
education. She credits that to a complete commitment by the
school's staff and said the district administration is committed
to fostering comparable inclusion in its other schools.
Holodick said that Concord's
successful implementation is the result of every staff member
having accepted as a basic premise that they are "responsible
for every student who comes through the door."
The co-teaching arrangement,
Hilkert said, dispels what otherwise might be a tendency among
regular-education teachers to be unsure of their ability to
instruct special-ed students. "They aren't caught in that cycle
of fear. They don't have to say they were trained to work with
students with disabilities," she said.
Counterpart to that among
special-education teachers is that their primary training has
been in strategies and methods rather than in getting across the
content of the range of courses.
There is no need to water down
course content or slow down the pace of instruction because the
special-ed teacher provides what support a student needs to keep
pace, she explained. At the same time, the students "are getting
access to the same education their peers are."
The arrangement also fosters
acceptance by the other students, said Beth Mounir, a
coordinator of pupil services.
Special-ed students are capable
of the same academic achievements as other students, Hilkert
said. "Research as shown that 65% of the learning-disabled have
normal to above-normal intelligence." Integrating them into a
regular-education program, in itself, raises expectations and
raising expectations stimulates achievement, she explained.
"We're getting out of the
tracking business which lowers expectations," she added. "We're
closing the achievement gap."
The federal No Child Left Behind
Act holds special-ed students to the same standards as regular
students. Special education, in fact, is one of the 'cells' by
which it measures progress.
Wilson said an companion benefit
to what is happening in Concord classrooms is showing up in
voluntary involvement in other aspects of student life. "It's
not unusual for [special-ed students] to be in the band or on
sports teams to to be seen at dances. That didn't happen very
often in the past," she said.