SACRAMENTO — For Kimber Rice, yearbook photos of her daughter Ari taken throughout the years are not just memories, they are proof of how far Ari has come.
Ari is 12. She’s a social butterfly who loves music and dancing. She also lives with some disabilities, which can be challenging in the classroom.
“She’s in middle school, but her reading and math skills are more around a first-grade level,” Rice said. “So learning in a typical classroom looks very different for her.”
But Rice says Ari is making huge strides at school, a fact she credits to inclusion.
“We really saw the benefit of her being with peers,” she said.
Inclusion is a type of education where students with disabilities are taught in the same classroom as typically-developing kids, and school districts are responsible for providing any resources those students might need.
“Language arts, math, social studies, science — all of those things have to be taught every day. And when you have so many children and inclusion children, it’s literally impossible to do,” one educator said.
FOX40 spoke with educators who work in different districts in the Sacramento Valley. Some are relatively new, others have been teaching for decades.
They all admit that inclusion is a challenge.
“We don’t get extra training. We don’t get extra time,” the educator said. “We are just expected to know what to do.”
They claim their general education credential does not cover teaching kids with special needs.
“I believe that in the credentialing program, there was a chapter that we read about that and that’s pretty much it,” said fourth-grade teacher Julieanne Neal.
Another challenge for these teachers is behavior in the classroom.
“Throwing books, tearing their desk down, throwing all of the papers out of their desk. Ripping up their work. Using profanity and yelling at everybody in the class. Throwing items at other students,” Neal said. “These are things that I’ve had this year.”
The teachers also said they don’t have aides in the room who can help.
One teacher said a paraeducator comes in for 40 minutes a day.
“In all my years, I have had maybe two inclusion children come through who had a full-time aide — but that’s very, very rare,” a teacher said.
Donny Collins taught special education for 20 years. Now, he coaches new teachers across several districts.
“I was having a hard time sleeping at night. I’m hearing that from my other teachers too. There’s so much they have to do and they don’t get to it. They’re really feeling overwhelmed,” Collins said.
He says special education teachers are also being asked to take on more and more students, with less and less help.
“The third year, before I left, I had 20 students and five paraeducators, adults in the classroom,” Collins told FOX40. “The fourth year, they gave me 23 students and one paraeducator.”
These teachers say they need more resources — more time for training and more aides in the classroom — so all students can learn.
“We all love the children. It’s not about not loving or wanting the children. It’s about giving them what’s best for them,” a teacher said. “And as teachers, when we can’t do that, we’re failures.”
And that’s something Rice agrees with.
“We want what’s best not just for our kids but for the whole classroom. That’s what makes it better,” she said.
For her, inclusion works. She sees the changes every day, a better future coming more clearly into focus and giving her hope.
“We just want people to see her for what she is capable of, not all the things she can’t do,” Rice said. “We really want them to see the possibilities that lay ahead for her.”
Twin Rivers Unified School District sent FOX40 the following statement:
“Our goal as a public school district is to maximize the potential of each student with unique learning needs. It’s a team effort involving parents, students, teachers, administrators and service providers. This collaborative approach is essential and requires that we strive to meet our teachers’ needs through relevant and practical support that enables them to be successful.
This ongoing process is continuously refined based on student and teacher needs and feedback. Through recent collective bargaining negotiations, a committee was formed to provide the forum for the collection of feedback to support actions based on the needs of our teachers.
We have a strong commitment to providing training opportunities and support to teachers. Our unwavering focus and actions towards these ends will support continued success.”
San Juan Unified School District also sent a statement to FOX40 about their inclusive practices:
“San Juan Unified has a very diverse community of learners. A significant subgroup of students we serve are students with disabilities. The district values and promotes educating students with disabilities in the Least Restrictive Environment; this often means within the general education environment alongside their peers without disabilities. In order to ensure all students have equal access and educational benefit, our district offers a full continuum of supports and services for students with disabilities in order to meet their unique learning needs across multiple settings.
Inclusion, and inclusive practices, are highly valued and promoted in all of our schools. School-site teams are currently being formed to develop meaningful programs and supports for students with disabilities in order to access the benefits of inclusion such as robust instruction, appropriate peer models and greater access to the general education curriculum. Research and experience shows that all individuals (staff, students, families and community) benefit when students with diverse learning needs are educated alongside one another.
The district has also been promoting and celebrating Inclusive Schools Week for the last few years. Inclusive Schools Week is the first full week in December and promotes and highlights the value of Inclusion and Inclusive Practices in our school communities. Furthermore, the district has identified the promotion of Inclusive Practices in our Local Control Accountability Plan with two actions and related services that target training and universal access for students with disabilities. The district also employs several Inclusion Specialists that support a variety of schools in their efforts to implement inclusive practices and inclusion opportunities as school sites.
We also continue to collaborate as a system on practices related to Universal Design for Learning (UDL) so that all students can benefit from a high-quality educational experience in their school communities.”