P.S. 32 and the ASD Nest Program
Nestled throughout the boroughs of New York City are a handful of schools with inclusion programs that attempt to educate students labeled learning disabled and those considered neurotypical together in classrooms with two educators. My foundation as a teacher comes mostly from the belief that human diversity — intellectual diversity included — can be the basis for great education and better teaching.
A few of these schools are a part of the Department of Education’s Autism Spectrum Disorder Nest Program. Beginning in 2003 within PS 32 in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, the ASD Nest began as a “Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) program for higher functioning children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs),” according to the program brochure. It has since grown to be a part of schools in all five boroughs. The program focuses on providing social skills support that will assist the child labeled with ASD in being successful. My classroom works on this alongside many other goals.
My co-teacher had been leading a lesson for a few minutes when “James,” a student classified as autistic, got up and silently moved behind his classmates. I followed, and it crossed my mind to scold him, but that inclination was dismissed. James announced that he “did not want to sit on that dirty rug.” Some might say James is a disrespectful student or is trying to get out of the lesson. For me, it became a moment for both teacher and student to learn.
After I investigated what James was feeling, it turned out that he had misinterpreted the emotion of my co-teacher. I had received the opportunity to understand his perspective and explain her actions. James left the situation with a little more understanding of the social world. His peers saw that differences can be understood, discussed, and respected.
Though CTT programs can vary dramatically in their structure, the Nest program requires both a special education and general education teacher in all classrooms, and has built in supports to ensure the integration of related services such as occupational, physical and speech therapy.
On a weekly basis, all professionals that work with a grade will meet to discuss progress and next steps for individual children. In situations without administratively sanctioned meeting time, individual teachers and providers rarely find the time to meet and share in such a way. This structure helps all involved to objectively review opinions in the face of different ideas and specialties.
The Nest program reminds me that we can continue to strive toward inclusion. The idea goes beyond mixing children with different labels in a class — it means honoring the diversity in our community by noting that everyone belongs. Though it is certainly not a realized goal, programs such as this can move us that much closer to understanding each other.
Christina Steel has worked as the Special Educator half of a teaching team in P.S. 32, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, for five years.