The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 23, 2004

Features

Integrated Preschool shines at Carlisle School

Jackson Brevier works at the water table. (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)

On a rainy Wednesday morning the children in Carlisle School's Integrated Preschool are gathered in circle time. Preschool teachers Cindi Samuels and Michaela Hardimon are explaining the "project choices" to the sixteen children sitting crossed-legged around them. Two teacher aids and a parent volunteer are also arranged around the circle, each with a child leaning against her or perched on her lap. This could be any preschool in any town, but this preschool is special. It is an elegant solution to a perplexing problem facing many communities: how to offer a quality, inclusive head start to special needs students and non-special needs students, while keeping costs low. State law requires that towns be responsible for the funding of preschool instruction for children with special needs starting at age 3. The half-day Carlisle Integrated Preschool, in session since 1998, has developed into an exciting and popular alternative to private preschools. Previously, children with special needs were bused to other towns such as Sudbury for preschool programs. This program can accomodate a maximum of 20 students.


Kirill Keeler paints a mural. (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)

 

The children suddenly jump up and separate, ready to try their project choices. Arianna, Elena, Mary and Skylar bustle over a table with pink foamy clay. Kirill and Tucker begin painting murals on large paper spread on the floor. Maria and Max sit on the floor playing Concentration with photos of their classmates. The children pick their activities, and when they are done, move to the next activity. The energy is happy and organized. Everyone is having a great time.

The preschool is funded by the town and by the $400 per month fee for students without special needs. The students age range is three to five and some children attend for two years before kindergarten. Carlisle children having special needs are identified through state guidelines, and are offered a spot in the program. Though there is a waiting list for children without special needs, there is not for children with special needs. The program is geared to kindergarten readiness, and follows the Massachusetts guideline for preschool curriculum.

Luke O'Leary sketches. (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)

In addition to the two teachers and two aides, a speech/language therapist and an occupational therapist frequently participate. "Everyone benefits from being part of the program," explains Hardimon. All children learn school readiness skills, she said; the regular education students learn compassion, and the special education students learn from having good social role models.

A flurry of activity catches Hardimon's eye. Two boys are playing with the large, colorful foam blocks, running into each other and taking playful swipes. Hardimon quickly leans down. "You know what? Those blocks are for building," she says as she squats down next to the boys.

The range of special needs vary, she said, but most children are able to function with support in a public school setting. "We're always trying to meet the needs, depending on the ages." It's a young group this year, she added.

Suddenly project time is over, and it is cleanup time. The children are encouraged to help pick up the blocks, wash paint-covered hands, and admire each other's work.

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday the full group attends from nine to twelve. However, just special needs students attend Tuesday and Thursday mornings for more focused reinforcement. A typical day begins with free choice activities such as working in the dress-up area, drawing, playing with blocks, or the doll house. "The school has been very generous" with supplies, said Samuels. And parents are always asking what they can do to help, she added. After the children clean up, the group sits for circle time, and has snacks. Some days the class visits the library, has a visit from music teacher Megan Fitzharris, or goes to see an assembly such as the kindergarten Rainforest Play. The last part of the morning, project time, is when new concepts and materials are introduced to the class. It's more structured, activities are limited, and children learn how to take turns. "We try to do things that will help in kindergarten, but we don't replicate it," explained Hardimon. They usually take one field trip a year.

The morning is almost over, and the children start gathering their things to get ready to meet their parents outside the Robbins Building (parents drive students to and from school). The activity is busy, but not frantic. Mary runs over to this reporter, and asks "Are you leaving?" When told yes, she gives a quick hug, says "I love you," and dashes off. A visit to this happy preschool would bring a smile to anyone's face.


2004 The Carlisle Mosquito