The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 11, 2009

Students with many learning needs included at the Carlisle School

To celebrate National Inclusive Schools Week (December 7 – 11), three board members of the Carlisle Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) presented a parents’ view of inclusion at the December 2 Carlisle School Committee (CSC) meeting.

According to the Inclusive School Network ( an inclusive school is run on the philosophy that all children can learn, be successful, and thrive within a shared school environment. Inclusive schools respond to the cultural, instructional, and behavioral needs of all students, and support the students’ growth of independence and social involvement within the school and the community.

Carlisle School’s Integrated Preschool

The CSC learned how students with disabilities are integrated into the preschool, the elementary school and the middle school. SEPAC Publicity chair Carol Yelle, who has a child in preschool, began the presentation with a slide show about the Integrated Preschool. “The preschool is the first experience many of our children with special abilities have at Carlisle Schools,” Yelle said. “This is where the children will make their very first friends.” Children with special needs attend five mornings, while typically developing children attend three half days. Yelle said the preschool uses a variety of tools such as a “GoTalk” board to assist non-verbal children to communicate. The GoTalk board holds picture buttons with pre-recorded, interchangeable messages, such as “Hello” or “All done.”

At the conclusion of the slide show Yelle said, “What you won’t see [in the slides] is the time and dedication of the staff. This is what an inclusive classroom should look like. It provides an environment so that students of all abilities can participate successfully in activities with their peers.” She urged the school committee to support student education on disabilities. Children ask teachers and parents about students with disabilities, she explained. “We as a community need to make sure our children are given the right answers. We need to raise awareness.” She also noted SEPAC is eager to be involved in the design of the new building, which will contain the preschool.

Elementary school

SEPAC Co-chair Lori Tucker, who has a child in the elementary school, said the staff does “a great job transitioning the kids from preschool to kindergarten.” She said there is a lot of communication between parents and teachers. “The teachers are very open and encouraging. They are willing to have a dialogue to discuss what works best with a child.” She complimented Elementary Principal Patrice Hurley, saying, “Patrice does a great job,” and was attentive to her son’s needs. She also suggested the school focus on ways to help students understand disabilities. She said students in the elementary years have a sense of “openness,” and the school should take advantage of that. She suggested the school add awareness of disabilities into the curriculum. “Kids have questions,” she said, but some are hesitant to ask. “It would be great if there was an opportunity and a dialogue.”

Middle School

SEPAC Co-chair Elaine Bojanic noted that in the middle school the differences become huge. “Inclusion can be difficult,” she said. She said her son, who is in 8th grade, is looking forward to attending Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) next year. “All students passing through the Carlisle School meet my son in his wheelchair,” she explained. “Some will give him a high five, and some may talk to him, and wait for an answer while he uses his computer. My hope is that this is an education for all who meet him.”

Inclusion is tough on teachers, she added, as it requires much up-front preparation work. In order for her son to participate in each class, Intensive Special Educator Steve Peck meets with the 8th-grade teachers to plan her son’s lessons. Information that her son will use is programmed into his touchscreen computer. He also attends a Bridge to Pathways classroom, which is modeled on the Pathways program at CCHS. In that room, students can receive extra schooling, occupational or physical therapies, and participate in the school store, “which provides a hands-on learning tool for math and social communication,” said Bojanic. She said the Bridge to Pathways classroom was outfitted with an electronic whiteboard during the summer. “The students can write on shared documents” on the whiteboard, she explained, and her son can use his joystick from his wheelchair tray to move the curser on the documents.

She thanked the committee for the opportunity to speak about inclusion in the Carlisle Schools and the CSC thanked Yelle, Tucker, and Bojanic for their presentations.

For more information on SEPAC see ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito