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New York City
July 2002

Inclusion Program at Francis Lewis HS
By Dave Coddington

Our Inclusion Program at Francis Lewis High School in Queens has been an ever-changing work in progress. We began the program in September of 1997 without any prior plan. One day before school started, I was assigned as the Methods and Resource Teacher, which was the title given to the Special Education Teacher in charge of adapting and modifying the curriculum in an inclusion program. I believe the title is now just plain Special Education Teacher.

Word went out to the Committees on Special Education that a new high school inclusion program was canvassing for students with emotional disabilities who might be appropriate to return to a mainstream high school setting. These students would be on the same level as their General Ed. peers as far as testing and other requirements. We started with three young men, two eighteen year olds and one sixteen-year-old. The Principal of Francis Lewis High School, where we were “guests,” had no prior knowledge of inclusion and was not too thrilled by our start up student population because of their age and prior anti-social behaviors. She was, however, diplomatically supportive and has become more than a friend to inclusion over the past five years.

Just before Thanksgiving in 1997, the two older students got into a serious fight in the cafeteria and they were reassigned to another program. About the same time, our third student, who was an undeclared graffiti artist, was caught creating a masterpiece in a stairwell. The artist was also removed from the school and was placed in Home Instruction for lack of a better placement. I became his tutor in Global History, Spanish and English after school everyday for the remainder of the school year. Over the years, I kept in touch with the artist on Home Instruction. He did well with the one-on-one educational support that I gave him. He passed my classes and was placed in a vocational program, which he dropped out of; but last I heard, he did finally receive his GED. Success from failure!

Our program now includes students with varied disabilities. We try to start students in our program at age14, the same as their high school freshman peers. First, we set up an interview to determine if the student and family are accepting of this style of education. Since we offer both a full academic program and a truncated vocational/academic program for students, students and parents can choose which program will best meet their needs.

At the beginning of each term (and there are two terms a year), I meet with each student’s subject teachers. We set up goals and any rubrics that might be needed in each class for grading my included student’s work. This is a mammoth challenge: I meet with 30 or more teachers each term. Fortunately, it has become easier with repeat teachers. As teachers become more accepting of the inclusion process they sometimes seek me out when a student’s work needs adaptations. That’s a very good sign and it means they are buying into the process and there is hope for the future. Newly graduated teachers with some background in inclusive education tend to accept my students a lot better than the “Chalk and Talk” old timers. The new teachers are usually more comfortable with collaboration and team teaching techniques, and they are more accepting of the Paraprofessional’s role in the classroom.

It took five years to finally program my inclusion students into General Education classes without too many problems. The computer system did not recognize my students as being enrolled in the high school since they were already enrolled in an off-site Special Education school. We were “guests” in the school without I.D. numbers and without official class designations, which resulted in my students not being able to go to class. In other words, there were serious obstacles to overcome in setting up official class schedules. A designated code called “Shared Instruction” was finally created last September and this solved the dilemma of including our students. I had ten students and the high school had three thousand five hundred students. I found out that I had to wait for my turn to program my students and adjust their schedules, just like any other grade advisor, which added another role to my job. As a grade advisor I had to learn the requirements for graduation, find out the schedule of standardized testing, learn programming codes for classes offered, and a host of other concepts foreign to a Special Educator.

Many times, my biggest obstacles were overcome by just good public relations. If you can “shmooze” people it will take you a lot less time to create a good working program. At the high school level collaboration with the General Education teachers is done on a “catch me when you can”, basis and “if I have time, we’ll talk about your student.” I make it a point to “catch” teachers during their preps or lunch hours to discuss student work and progress. I joined the high school Executive Board and the School Safety Plan Committee with the intention of presenting myself as less of a “guest” and more of a member of the high school faculty. I learned what the issues were in the school and attending the meetings gave me the opportunity to advocate for my students.

Inclusion is still considered a Special Education project or program and not a shared responsibility of the educational community as a whole. Economics plays a big factor in the division of responsibility but that’s a whole new ball of wax to investigate. I believe this will change as more students with disabilities find their rightful place among the mainstream population. It is easier to include students when they are younger and it is easier for the general population to accept them. I have seen a positive change in my school over the past five years. Three of my students participate in the high school chorus; peer tutorials are up this year, socializing with peers in classes has increased, and a general feeling of acceptance from teachers and students is taking hold.

When everyone accepts the fact that we all learn in different ways and at different speeds, then that will be the day when my job will no longer be necessary.#

Dave Coddington is a teacher at Francis Lewis High School.


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