Children with special needs have been included in preschool classes for many years in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191.
But this year, inclusion opportunities have expanded so that more special education students are in preschool classrooms learning with their regular education peers in nine of the district’s elementary schools.
“For the past 30 years, we’ve provided inclusion settings for children, now we’re building on that successful foundation with a more unified early childhood approach to better serve all children,” said Jacqueline Smith, supervisor of the district’s Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) program.
Inclusion is when children who qualify for special education are in a typical classroom with their peers, rather than being pulled out for instruction and support. Special education and mainstream teachers are co-teaching inclusive classrooms.
“Our goal is for all children with special needs to attend preschool in their neighborhood school,” said Cindy Check, coordinator of District 191 Community Education’s early childhood programs. “There’s a benefit for children with special needs to be included in regular classrooms, and also for their peers to have them there.”
“The opportunity for young children to attend preschool in their neighborhood school, regardless of needs, begins a school-family connection and provides a strong foundation for future learning,” said Check. “All children benefit from playing and learning with their peers in this age-appropriate setting.”
Check and Smith oversee a total of 130 early childhood teachers and support staff members who are working together for young learners.
District 191 Community Education and ECSE combine professional development for their staff members and are using the same curriculum, assessments and social-emotional learning approach. Also, they have shared planning time to identify goals and objectives for all children, and develop adaptations, modifications and supports for their students.
“All children come to school with varying strengths and needs,” said Smith, “We strive to meet the needs of all children within each classroom.”