By: Theresa Taft, Special Education Program Administrator at Green Dot Public Schools Washington
You may have seen that for the second straight year, eight Green Dot high schools have been named among the nation’s best by US News & World Report. We are extremely proud of our colleagues in California and are honored to work with people who are committed to providing educational opportunities for all students.
At the core of this success and our work is the belief that all children have the ability to graduate prepared for college, leadership, and life. All means all. That is why we have a tailored, inclusive approach to special education.
An inclusive approach
When you walk into a classroom at Destiny Middle School in Tacoma, WA you’ll notice there are a few more educators in the room. Since we focus on a full inclusion learning environment, all our students with special needs have access to the general education setting. This allows them to work, learn, and grow alongside their peers. Supporting the student to be successful in this setting may be an occupational therapist, speech therapist, or an instructional aid. These educators work with students one-on-one and in small groups to help them stay in, and succeed in, a general education setting. In small groups the students participate in academic games and exercises that help build trust and a safe space to practice skills they need to work to successfully navigate the general education curriculum..
Our special education teachers are trained in co-teaching strategies, where they jointly plan and co-teach literacy-based courses like history, which can be more challenging to students with special needs. Also having a second adult in the classroom gives students with special needs a trusted adult to check-in with and ask questions of if they don’t feel comfortable asking a question in front of the class.
A tailored approach for each student
We’re building a school culture and room for our students to learn and develop new academic and social skills. Each student has had different experiences, and will need tailored supports to participate, thrive and stay in an inclusive, general education classroom setting. For example, a student who has challenges communicating with their teacher may feel more comfortable writing notes to explain their answers, ask questions, or explain their emotions. A checklist could be the best way to help a student stay on track and understand what their assignments are, and what’s being asked of them. From the start, our families are encouraged to be a part of the process of developing and implementing a system of supports addressing each student’s needs.
We help each student set goals and track their progress throughout the year. At Destiny, student learning data is a crucial part of our strategy in serving all students. We start the year with personalized assessments that give us a profile of each student’s academic strengths and goals. We build our master schedule of course offerings around students’ needs, and we check back in on student progress formally every quarter, and informally every day. Students set learning goals and know their data too! This gives us all shared goals and commitments to each other, including our families.
Family involvement is key
Just as each student has their own experience, so does every parent. When I first meet a student’s family I ask them their history, what supports have worked, and what didn’t work at their old school. This helps me develop a tailored plan of action for their student’s transition to our school.
Once a student is at Destiny, our special education team keeps their families informed from day one with the best form of communication that works for them; it may be as simple as a text, email, or phone call, or it may also mean a face to face discussion to answer their questions. Feedback and engagement from families is very important to our success in developing and implementing the right supports for their child. Families are also sent a quarterly survey, and the information is used to make adjustments as needed to their student’s supports and our program as a whole.
At Green Dot’s Destiny Middle School, we have a shared vision that all students are our students. We are constantly asking: what can we do better? What’s next? Every day we push ourselves to develop solutions and provide the right resources for our students and their families. We keep moving forward because in the end it all comes back to the students and how we can serve them best.