Saturday, 16 November 2013

Just Too Easy?

This week our team began the task of completing file reviews for a group of students in a class for students with severe or complex needs.  Many of these students are in wheelchairs.  Most of these students are non-verbal.  All require a great deal of care throughout the day.  We found practices in the past that appeared hopeful -  practices to break down barriers of movement and barriers of communication.  Students were introduced to switches to turn on their own equipment such as music and a fan.  Students were introduced to low tech communication devices that allowed them opportunity to communicate needs and wants. IPPs were full of goals to move forward.

Fast forward to today.  Students no longer use these communication devices.  The focus in the IPP is on actions such as reaching for an object.  Students are lined up each day and put through the same paces - simply existing in a lack lustre room that does not even get dressed up for Halloween.  I will add that the staff in the room does care for the students.  That is not the problem.  That they care, is evident.

The problem as I see it is this -
Nobody has any hope for these students.  We have given up.  We try nothing new.  We presume these students are incapable of anything much.  We do their art for them.  We park them in front of the video player and play Dora every day because "They love it."  We just deliver the same old tired program day in and day out.  We keep these students hidden at the back of the school and we even feel the need to "give the teacher a break" because it is just so hard.

I am not saying that programing for students who cannot give you verbal feedback is easy.  I am not saying that you have to do much with little money.  BUT I am saying that these children deserve our very best just like the gifted and talented student down the hall.  These students deserve an equitable education and when everyone else has given up hope, we MUST be the advocate for these students.

I wonder how our most vulnerable students do not have access to the very best possible communication devices.  I wonder how our most vulnerable students do not have access to curriculum as directed by the government?  I know we will have to make modifications but they deserve the curriculum as well.

Check out the story of Nathan who has been included since kindergarten thanks to the adults around him who have been his advocates.  Who will advocate for the students locked away in these segregated sites? When will they have the opportunity to be with their peers?

Unless we stop opening up more and more sites to keep these kids segregated, we will continue to forget about their needs and simply move through the motions, hiding behind our wall of "care" all the while giving up hope for these young people.  Unfortunate because these kids need  an advocate to bring them back to the group, back to being a part of society instead of living on the fringes and simply surviving.

Jeff Johnson, Minister of Education wrote to parents:
As a parent of three kids, I understand the hopes and dreams you have for your child. You hope that through an excellent education, your child will reach their full potential.
In Alberta they can.
We continue to build our world-class education system, delivering 21st century learning through the vision of Inspiring Education*. This vision identifies the competencies of a successful Albertan – an engaged thinker who is ethical and entrepreneurial – and lays the groundwork for how to promote those values in our youth and the learning community.
The goal is to prepare students so they not only have the knowledge to succeed but also the skills and competencies demanded of their future world – a world that will have different types of jobs that require new skills. To get students ready, you will probably notice your child’s education is a bit different than when you were in school.
Classrooms are set up to invoke critical thinking where solutions are often found by the student, not just the teacher. This is all part of developing real-life skills in students, especially in our digital age where there is an abundance of information readily available – often in the palm of your hand. 

I wonder what plans Jeff has for our most vulnerable students.  No mention of our students with complex special needs.  We read on the Alberta Ed website:

When we think about each student we must consider different definitions of student success.  An inclusive education system does not mean everyone attends the same type of school, rather it means we create education settings where each student finds success.

This is where it gets sketchy.  Who decides what is success?  It is successful if no one is noisy and nothing rocks the boat?  Or will there be direction as to success for all?  This is where it is frustrating. Success seems to only indicate what our Ableist society sees as success in the traditional school program.  We need indicators for success for our kids with complex needs also.

I am thankful for the start our team has taken to make a difference for these students.  I look forward to see what our next steps will be.


  1. This is the population of students that I work with and I hear exactly what you are saying when you talk about things getting "tired" in a segregated setting. I taught in one and now have been facilitating programs for those same students in inclusive settings for between 2 and 4 years (depending on student as we stagger started) and I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is much easier to think in terms of reaching further when they are in settings that demand that we do not get tired and we keep reaching to find one more way, no matter how small, to ensure that they are engaged, participating and learning in natural settings. Their motivation, particularly around socialization and communication has skyrocketed since being in inclusive classrooms - which makes sense as it is peers that motivate these things and the adults that are around them are sometimes so in-tune with them that there is not a need (and there shouldn't be as they should step in at appropriate times when that might be needed). Nathan's experience is something that EVERY student can have but, as you said, as long as there is somewhere that is easier for adults to "put" these students we will continue to believe that it is somehow our right to "put" children anywhere other than where they are naturally supposed to be. I'm glad that your team is taking on the job of advocating for these students and being their voice until they have programs that allow them to be their own voice.

  2. Thanks Monica. This has been heavy on my heart for the past week. I dream about ways to help at night! It is my hope we can make the start of a huge paradigm shift in our district.