Inclusion at SCS
A sense of belonging is essential to each of us as human beings. We want this from our families, our friends, our communities, our places of worship, our work and school environments. This is especially important for individuals with special needs, who can easily feel disenfranchised, particularly in work and school environments. Special needs children are the most vulnerable segment of our society and in the greatest need to feel a sense of belonging. That’s why inclusion is a cornerstone tenet of Sussex Christian School (SCS).
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (Corinthians 12:27)
In the October 9, 2018 “Moving Forward” podcast, Elizabeth Dombrowski, Executive Director of All Belong Center for Inclusive Education, spoke about how Dr. Erik Carter and his associates at Vanderbilt University posed this question to hundreds of people with disabilities in church communities: “What does it mean to belong?” He wanted to identify the essential elements of creating a sense of belonging within a community. Dr. Carter identified 10 dimensions of belonging: Present, Invited, Welcomed, Known, Accepted, Supported, Cared For, Befriended, Needed and Loved.
These dimensions embody the main role for SCS and Christian education; to recognize each child was created in God’s image. As we focus on including special needs children in developing our student programs, we will begin to resemble the Kingdom of God.
UNDERSTANDING INCLUSIVE EDUCATION
An inclusive school attempts to put people and programs around ALL children whose parents desire a Christian education for them, including those with special needs, since each child is integral to the overall body of the school. We approach this by defining the unique gifts and needs of the individual child, and use the resources at SCS to allow each one to grow to his or her fullest potential. For some children, the regular education classroom best meets their academic needs. For others, an adapted program supported by the Learning Center may be a better fit, or accommodations to meet the child’s learning style.
Ownership and friendship are two elements of consideration for special needs students. In other standard models used in Special Education, children are “owned” by the Special Education system. They either have a separate classroom or primary teacher within that domain. Even if the child ventures out into the general education domain, it is clear that ultimate “ownership” of that student belongs to the Special Education department. In contrast, SCS employs an inclusion-based program. It assigns each person a place of belonging within the general education setting. For example, a third-grade child on the autism spectrum is a child who has third grade peers and a general education teacher and is supported in that environment by the Special Education department. That child may leave the classroom for individual support at some points during the day, but the child is just as much a third grader as the child sitting beside him or her.
Our inclusion program is further defined by friendship. It would be naïve to believe that one could place a child with special needs in the middle of a standardized fifth grade classroom and expect everyone to get along well. For that reason, we work hard to provide a network of friendships for each child. This is accomplished through giving accurate information about the child’s needs to all students, working specifically on social skills with the special needs child, and aiding them in developing a circle of friends through shared activities. These children are surrounded by peers who desire a relationship with them for who they are. They are not defined by their special needs.
INCLUSION AT SCS
For children who have a disability or specific educational needs, a multidisciplinary team performs an evaluation, determines eligibility, and creates an Individualized Service Plan (ISP), similar to the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) of public schools. The ISP outlines accommodations and services recommended for each child.
SCS maximizes the government funding for these services. Funding is currently available to address any Speech, Supplemental and Basic Skills services recommended in the ISP for the individual child. However, due to federal and state budgetary constraints, government funding is not available for children whose ISP’s recommend Occupational Therapy (OT) or Physical Therapy (PT).
SCS recognizes the importance of meeting the recommendations set forth in the ISP. Therefore, SCS’s Inclusion Funding is being utilized to bring in the professional services to allow each child to reach his or her fullest potential.
Additionally, our Specialists in Education identify the supplemental needs of each child outside of the scope of the ISP and, if warranted, those children also receive supplemental or basic skills instruction through Inclusion Funding.
At SCS, we also have a Learning Center for higher-needs children who are better served through individual and small group instruction with our Special Education professional, Stephanie Scott, in subjects such as math and language arts.
Over 20% of students in our classrooms are directly benefited by the Inclusion Funding above and beyond government funds.
Furthermore, 100% of our students benefit from two additional aspects of the Inclusion Program. Our Special Education Team, Dr. Marilyn Gasior and Stephanie Scott, advise all of our teachers on how to implement accommodations and teaching styles seamlessly into the general education classroom to better meet all individual learners’ needs. Also, growing up in community with a true representation of God’s children is an invaluable experience that will remain with SCS students their entire lives.
At SCS, we are extremely grateful for the families who trust us with the education of their children, as well as the supporting community and generous donors who make providing these services possible through Inclusion Funding.
To support the continuation of Inclusion at SCS, please consider attending and/or donating to our two biggest fundraisers; the Building the Kingdom Dinner, held during the spring semester, and the All-For-1 5k held near the end of the school year. Additional opportunities for giving are also available throughout the year, so keep a look out on our website (sussexchristianschool.org) and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
For more information about our inclusion program for special needs students at SCS, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.