Class winners

Inclusion programs are within reach in the Hudson Valley

Hendrick Hudson School, IEP, Integrated Collaborative Teaching

A teacher with the Hendrick Hudson School District’s Integrated Collaborative Teaching program works with a group of young boys. The program’s classes include individuals with and without an Individual Education Plan and are attended by a special education teacher, general education teacher and a teaching assistant (in K-5 classrooms).  

Every parent wants the best education for his or her child. If yours is a neurotypical child, chances are you don't have to dig deep for a school or program to suit your young one's needs.  

But when you are a parent to a child with special needs, or different abilities, you may struggle to find just the right environment to support him or her. 

Find the right fit. No doubt, when researching schools, you look for things like communication systems, specialized staff who are trained to provide emotional or physical supports, access to therapies, social integration and appropriate transportation, among other things. And sometimes, parents with children with different needs must look at schools in districts beyond the comfort of their hometown to find just the right fit. 

There is no one size fits all program, and not every school district gets it right. Some students may need support for part of their day, continued for a few years, or straight through college. There is a learning curve for parents that comes with navigating the world of special education. It's important to learn new things, for instance, acronyms like IEP (Individual Education Plan) and FBA (Functional Behavior Assessment) and what laws apply to a 504 plan verses an IEP. 

Public-school systems have different options for special education students. One is self-contained classrooms that are comprised of only special education students and staff. Another option is inclusion classrooms that consist of general education students integrated with special education students. 

Look at inclusion classrooms. Inclusion classrooms are usually led by a co-teaching team of a special education teacher and a general education teacher. This inclusive environment allows for a neurodiverse experience, where kids with different abilities have the same access to their school experience as their peers do. Inclusion classrooms with authentic opportunities for friendships and shared experiences are not always easy to find, but have incredible benefits, like a tailored education for each student, while making differences seem less different. All students in inclusion classrooms can benefit from the classroom's supportive services and resulting unique education.  

The Hendrick Hudson School District in Cortlandt Manor has a K-12 ICT (Integrated Collaborative Teaching) program. It offers students with a special education IEP an inclusive classroom experience alongside their general education peers. The ICT classrooms include a special education teacher, general education teacher and a teaching assistant (in K-5 classrooms) that lead a class of 18-25 individuals with and without an IEP. The K-5 classrooms focus on individual academic needs plus growing social, emotional and higher functioning skills.  

Lisa Schuchman, the executive director of pupil personnel services, has received positive feedback from teachers, students and parents for the school's program. 

"This is the second year of the K-5 program and the teachers love the model," she said. "The kids (4th graders) even comment that they feel confident to raise their hands in class and answer questions." 

Consider specialized schools. The Alternative Learning Center the Valley Central School District provides students living with anxiety, depression, social phobias and school avoidance with an inclusive experience in a small setting. The K-12 school located in Maybrook, has about 70 students and focuses on building a community between staff and students. Smaller class sizes and no school bell to indicate class changes helps create a less hectic school experience. 

Dia Georgiou, district school psychologist, said the school is a great way to meet the social emotional needs of students who need a small setting. "If you can't meet a child's emotional needs, they can't show up academically," she said. 

Most classrooms have approximately 12 students with or without a special education IEP. Students can remain in the school long-term or return to their designated school once they feel confident to return. "We see attendance increase once kids begin here," said Georgiou. "They may not have wanted to get out of bed to attend their last school but are happy coming here."  

One parent in the Red Hook School District in Dutchess County has seen her son's success through a co-teaching inclusion classroom. Rhiannon Scott of Red Hook and mother to Jaxon age 10, credits the co-teaching, integrated classroom for Jaxon's success at school. "Jaxon's grades keep going up, his confidence level is much better, he volunteers in class to answer questions and to read even though he's still not a great reader," she said. 

Scott feels the approach helps her son stay on course academically, alongside his typical peers. "This program is great for him because he still does the work the other kids do, the teachers just modify it a little, so he understands it better," she said.   

Every child has a unique set of needs and not every program works for every child. These are just a few of programs available to students in the region. No matter which one is chosen, no doubt, you will leave no stone unturned gathering the details. 

Roxanne Ferber is a mom of twins, blogger and freelance writer in Ulster County. She is a former service coordinator and advocates for families with different needs.