December 1997

Special Education

Integration in
Special Education

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Implementing Integration in Special Education

Literature on integration abounds, but it doesn’t often describe how it actually works. Here’s how Mount Hope Public School tackled it.

By Jim Files

In the spring of 1996, the administration at Mount Hope Public School in Mount Hope could see that special education needs outstripped the capability of the existing model — a phenomenon many schools are experiencing. Although the government promised not to cut special education funds, if needs grow and funding fails to keep pace the effect is the same.

The accommodation of children with special education needs continues to perplex educators and administrators. Historically, students with special needs were left on the fringes, but now integration into the mainstream is a concern for all. Proponents argue it increases children’s self-esteem, provides positive role models and exposes children to age-appropriate materials and content.

Mount Hope’s special education needs were quite acute, and sending all the kids with problems off to the learning centre and resource room was no longer an option. The school’s principal, Bob Vardy, and the staff all knew it.

Staff Involved at the Start

Vardy discussed plans at a staff meeting in September 1996. He said the groundwork had to be laid for a new resource model. While this would not be easy, new special education personnel would facilitate the change.

He outlined a model in which only the most needy would be served for about half the day in the learning centre by Carolyn Nidzgorski, the learning centre teacher. The others would be served in the resource room and the regular classroom.

The learning centre would replace classroom programs with remedial work. The resource room would test students and provide programs that parallelled the regular classroom and remedial strategies so that students might cope in the regular classroom. The resource teacher would help students in the resource room and the classroom.

A memo circulated to the staff reiterating that the numbers of students seen in special education would be reduced, but that support would be provided for the most needy. Staff also learned the extent of the problem. A list was circulated of all the students involved in special education in one way or another. When staff saw that almost 25 per cent of the student population was monitored by the special education team, they recognized that some students with special education needs would have to be served in the classrooms.

Although staff were understandably apprehensive about the changes, they appreciated the need for a fresh approach.

Another aspect of the September blitz involved encouraging staff to use special education documentation. In most boards, procedures and paperwork are amassed for children involved in special education and kept in the Ontario Student Record. It is essential that teachers be familiar with the contents of this chronicle.

Studying this information was important preparation for special education team meetings at Mount Hope. These meetings, held twice a week, included the vice-principal and learning centre, resource and classroom teachers. Here, they made critical decisions about the students’ educational needs.

Keeping Parents Informed

A crucial aspect of the restructuring was making sure that parents noticed the changes. The September newsletter told parents that, because of the high number of needy students, the resource room and learning centre could not accommodate all of them. The newsletter assured parents that special education would continue to serve the very needy and provide strategies and support for the students and teachers coping in the classroom.

Then came workshops for teachers, led by resource personnel. These provided a number of indispensable suggestions to teachers for assisting kids in the gritty world of the regular classroom. Teachers were offered a number of metacognitive strategies for reading, as well as a scheme for the organizing paragraphs. This also had the benefit of providing a basis for skills consistent throughout the school.

The portrait would not be complete without mention of the modification checklist for teachers developed at the Wentworth County Board of Education. Under various headings, the list outlined possible classroom modifications.

The checklist also went out to parents with student report cards so that they could see how the school was adapting programs to meet their child’s needs.

For staff, the checklist was no mere chore. It heightened their interest in special education needs by showing how easy it was to modify for students’ needs. The changes included preferred seating, rephrasing questions and extra time for tests and assignments, to name just a few.

In the end, the model gathered enough steam to see it through implementation because of a concerted effort on the part of teachers, students, administration and the community.

The model gave the teachers reasons for change and the means to meet new needs. Most important, it was an open process in which difficulties were weighed and debated. Proposed solutions were shared throughout the model’s development.

Implementing this model was also a testimony to how effectively schools can put plans in the works for themselves and solve problems. The winners, in the end, were the kids.

Jim Files was the resource teacher at Mount Hope when the model was set up. He now teaches Grade 6 at Bell-Stone School, just outside of Hamilton. He can be reached at