Transitions between grades and schools are difficult for many students, but the challenges increase for students with disabilities or limited English skills. National Inclusive Schools Week (December 4-8) this year focuses on supporting special needs students through transitions. Included: Ideas for helping special needs students with transitions.
The theme for this year's National Inclusive Schools Week (NISW), scheduled for December 6-10, is "Awareness to Action: Celebrating 10 Years of Inclusive Schools."
NISW highlights and celebrates the progress U.S. schools have made in using inclusive practices to ensure a quality education for an increasingly diverse student population, including students with disabilities, those from low socio-economic backgrounds, and English language learners," according to a release from the organizers. NISW is sponsored in part by the Education Development Center and the Urban Education Leadership Collaborative.
David Riley, executive director of the Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative, talked with Education World about this years Inclusive Schools Week theme and the progress U.S. schools are making in meeting the needs of all students.
Education World:How do schools celebrate National Inclusive Schools Week?
David Riley: Schools celebrate National Inclusive Schools Week (NISW) in a variety of ways. Many participants begin by consulting our popular Celebration Kit, Celebration Ideas: Activities and Resources for Schools, Classrooms, and Families." The kit contains dozens of examples of how schools have celebrated in the past, as well as several lesson plans and resources related to disability issues, diversity, and community building. The kit also includes a sample proclamation, tips on working with the media, and other tools to support these efforts.
In general, schools and communities participate by organizing professional development opportunities to encourage collaborative planning between general and special educators, entering our national poster/essay contest, organizing multicultural events and celebrations, issuing proclamations of Inclusive Schools Week in their communities, giving awards and recognition to educators and community members who are making a difference for students with disabilities, holding book fairs, and writing letters-to-the-editor.
In 2005, Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nevada, held a variety of student activities, including:
With widespread and meaningful participation across the U.S. and in several foreign nations, the fifth Annual National Inclusive Schools Week in 2005 was the most successful yet. The week was celebrated in thousands of schools in all 50 states. The White House recognized the event with a message of support and appreciation to parents and educators, as well as the events organizers. It is anticipated that the 2006 NISW will build upon this momentum and break participation records.
EW: Why did you choose to focus on transitions this year?
Riley: Each year, National Inclusive Schools Week focuses on a theme that highlights issues and challenges that are impacting schools and communities who are committed to becoming more inclusive.
Poor post-school outcomes for students with disabilities and those from culturally and linguistically diverse families are not new issues facing educators across the nation. Research indicates that quality transition planning can increase post-school outcomes for all students. School professionals across the country are being held accountable for effectively planning student transitions, but are often left without the tools, resources, or professional collaborations to meet these objectives. Families also need these tools and resources.
During NISW 2006, we encourage schools and communities to take a broader look at transitions to include experiences throughout the students school career and beyond. Transition is essentially about planning for life during and after the school years. It includes planning for school programs, employment and work training opportunities, choices about participating in the community, and building social relationships.
Charting an Inclusive Journey through School, Work, and Life: Successful Transition Planning for All Students" is a new NISW publication that includes a compilation of innovative approaches and promising practices and programs for providing a smooth transition experience for all students including those with disabilities and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. We hope that schools consider incorporating some of these ideas into their educational programs and using NISW as an opportunity for discussion about what else can be done to support thoughtful transition planning for all students.
EW: What are some of the distinct challenges special needs students face during transitions?
Riley: Students with disabilities, like their peers without disabilities, face many challenges associated with a move to a new school, setting, program, or the transition from school to the adult world. Transitions are important rites of passage for all students and are significant milestones for youth with disabilities and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Throughout a student's academic career, he or she will experience many transitions -- from elementary to middle school, from middle to high school, and from high school to post-secondary education or work. These changes can be difficult even for students who have the best supports, but for students with disabilities, English language learners, and those with little family or community support, these transitions can make the difference between success and failure. Without the proper supports in place, times of transition can be marked by frustration, stress, and hopelessness.
Inclusive schools and communities are designed to guide children and youth along a personalized and supportive path. All students need to acquire the skills necessary to live as independently as possible. All students should be prepared to be active members of the working and social world around them. With this in mind, schools that empower students to make their own choices and be their own best advocates will allow them to gain valuable experience in managing life's challenges, while helping them to realize their goals and dreams.
EW: What do educators need to know to make transitions easier for special needs students?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law requiring a free appropriate education for children with disabilities, outlines the role that educators and schools play in preparing students for the transition from school to post-secondary education, work and community life. As a result of this legislation, school professionals across the country are being held accountable for effectively planning student transitions.
EW: How would you assess the nations progress on inclusion since last year at this time?
Riley: During the 200304 school year, the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) reported that approximately 50 percent of all students in the U.S. with disabilities were being educated in regular classrooms during 80 percent or more of the school day. Between 1994 and 2004, the percentage of students with disabilities spending 80 percent or more of the school day in a regular classroom showed an overall increase of 5 percent, which shows that our nations schools are moving in the right direction but still have a long way to go to ensure a quality education for an increasingly diverse student population.
Although the nationwide statistics may seem only slightly optimistic, there are many examples of local school districts that are employing inclusive practices and reaping the benefits. National Inclusive Schools Week has become a vehicle for these schools and communities to share their successes with others across the nation. We receive hundreds of emails each year documenting local accomplishments toward building more inclusive schools and communities.
EW: How does the No Child Left Behind Act continue to affect inclusion efforts?
Riley: Possibly the most dramatic impact on inclusion efforts across the nation is the inclusion of students with disabilities in the assessment and accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. The relevance of including students with disabilities in assessment and accountability has been demonstrated by the increase in the number of students with disabilities in many states who took and passed the standardized tests and an increase in graduation rates in recent years. In order to take these tests and graduate with a diploma, students had to have access to a rigorous curriculum and be included in courses in which they may not have participated in before.
NCLB has, in many cases, raised the bar for schools that have historically set lower expectations for students with disabilities and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. There is no longer a legitimate argument about whether or not all students should be expected to meet high standards. The focus now is on how we can help students achieve to their greatest potential within a school environment that supports a variety of learning styles and meets the needs of all children and families.
This e-interview with David Riley is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.
Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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