Grounded in the topic of inclusion, stems the debated question of academic inclusion. Those on the side of viewing academic inclusion under the general umbrella of inclusion because of the social factors associated with it, advocate that no matter what the grade level (and oftentimes, student’s needs), the goal should be to maintain the student with mainstream peers for the majority of the day. The rationale for this belief is that the mainstream environment provides role models. The approach to providing supports under this view of inclusion, is to push in the supports, often times offering a shadow to remain with the student throughout the day working 1:1 and providing any modifications necessary.
Developed over many years of working with students with varying exceptionalities, Kesher’s philosophy on academic inclusion takes on a different lens. This lens challenges the notion of the benefits of role models by asking the question, “if a student has significant deficits in the areas of self awareness, self monitoring, perspective taking or social awareness, regardless of the appropriateness of the role models present, will the student really make use of these role models?” The answer more often than not, is no. This is because the student is not developing these skills innately, and rather, needs to be taught these skills, and only then can be able to implement them to benefit from picking up cues in the environment. Kesher’s lens on this topic challenges the notion even further by offering two more ideas to ponder.
The first is that the executive functioning/social emotional skills required of a student (ie perspective taking, social awareness, self monitoring etc) are directly connected to higher order critical thinking academic skills. The skill a student uses to problem solve on the playground by attempting to understand the friend’s point of view, is the same skill necessary to understand a character’s point of view in a book, the author’s purpose or the effects of plot on the development of characters. In other words, the skills are not mutually exclusive. If a student needs to taught these executive functioning/ social emotional skills, there needs to be instruction time set aside for the teaching of said skills, as well as scaffolded opportunities for practice and feedback throughout the child’s day.
The second idea that Kesher poses for pondering is that the lower school years really be seen as foundational years. These are the years that a student transitions from learning to read into reading to learn. These are the years that the classroom environment offers nurturing of key foundational skills before middle school, where students are expectation to begin to take said skills and apply them even more. Making sure in the lower school years that there are minimum amounts of gaps in learning is crucial, specifically in the areas of academics, social emotional learning and executive functioning skills.
It can be said that Kesher believes that a strong foundation sets students up for success further down the road. It is in the lower school years that this strong foundation is constructed. Therefore, in Kesher the focus in the lower school years is on more social mainstreaming opportunities, and not on academic inclusion.
The term early intervention is used to describe services available through IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) typically referring to children with developmental delays under the age of three. However, the term also refers to the importance of evaluating and retaining necessary special education and related services as early on in a child’s life as possible. In the early school years, children are exposed to a vast amount of skills in the school setting. These skills connect and can be compared to a staircase of skills, one building upon the next. Gaps in a child’s learning can significantly impact his/her skills further down the road. If a child presents with deficits in the areas of academics, behaviors, executive functioning or social emotional skills, parents should seek guidance towards evaluating to determine if there is a need for intervention (ie special education or related services).
Kesher partners with the schools it services to offer support in identifying intervention needs. A crucial part of the process is parent education. Properly informing parents about the areas of deficits and the impacts of early intervention are crucial in building a team that works together in sync for the child’s educational success. Progress monitoring is another key factor in determining need. This is to say that while sometimes a need arises, or a deficit area appears, often this is seen as a temporary issue that will sort itself out with time. It is therefore key that when such issues arise, that proper documentation be taken in order to monitor progress or lack thereof. Only then can it properly be determined if the need is transient or that an intervention is necessary. Time is of the essence when speaking about development, especially in the early years.