Children Star in Inclusive Learning Environment
When you walk into a classroom in the North Smyrna Preschool Program in the Smyrna School District, you’ll notice that children are quietly playing together while teachers are using their play to teach shapes and numbers. What doesn’t strike you is that fifty percent of the classroom includes children with special needs.
This Star 5 program is a Part B/619 program that serves both children with special needs and typically developing peers in inclusive classrooms and was one of the first school-based programs to apply to Delaware Stars close to six years ago.
In the beginning of this partnership, some staff were concerned whether Stars tools, particularly ECERS-R, would work in inclusive classrooms. “At first, we were afraid of Stars, but our TA kept working with us to adapt and the results have been extremely positive,” says Carissa Stevens, the program coordinator.
Jessica Allabaugh, the three-year-old teacher agrees. “It seemed overwhelming but using Stars tools makes sense and has given our teachers more options.”
Through the dedication and vision of Carissa and her staff, along with support from their TA, the program has made a daily practice of using Stars tools and strategies. This tireless commitment has included staff trainings, small group discussions, individual classroom observations with feedback, and hours spent working after school and during plan/lunch times.
Now, the activities in the classroom are more child-directed versus teacher-led. “Children are taking the lead and we are incorporating teaching,” adds Tiyana Mullin, a four-year-old teacher.
Everyone is benefiting in these classrooms. The students are learning from each other, serving as role models, and learning compassion. Teachers are thinking outside of the box and trying new strategies with support from their Stars TA. Families are building community to support each other.
“Stars has given opportunities to everybody,” says Carissa. “The inclusion program has helped us focus on developmental progress for all our children.”