I’m going to start with a disclaimer. I’m pretty certain that nobody at Elijah’s school has ever called their model a “flipped inclusion model.” That’s my own terminology so if it’s confusing or turns out to mean something completely different, mea culpa. So with that being said, on to the point 🙂
When we first moved to Denver the school we originally wanted to put Elijah in (where he later ended up) did not have any openings for the summer session. Instead we put him in a local private school that is down the road from our house and we thought would be helpful in providing him a bit of religious background. We were quite taken aback when, for the first time in our experience, our child not only wasn’t treated as a welcome favorite, but rather as an unwelcome burden. I had spoken with the administrator of the school extensively before placing him there, but apparently that information did not get conveyed and/or discussed very thoroughly with the actual teacher he was going to be with. Within two weeks my child who had always loved going to school suddenly hated it and I truly began to have a horrible feeling when I dropped him off. Each day it was as if I could physically feel the eye-roll and hidden sigh along with the unspoken “ugh, Elijah’s here today.” It was a completely new and unexpected experience for me after all of the success we had with him in Miami. I spoke with the director and was ready to pull Elijah out of the school when one of the other teachers volunteered to have him switched to her classroom. This worked out quite well for a short-time, but then that teacher ended up leaving for personal reasons and we ended up with another new teacher. This one was significantly nicer than the first one, but I still got a burdensome feeling from the classroom as a whole. Needless to say we were quite relieved when a spot opened up at the school we originally intended for Elijah to attend.
I tell this story not to bad-mouth one of the schools here (you’ll notice I left it completely unnamed) but rather to display an all-to-common occurrence with a typical “inclusion” model. Honestly it was the fear of that very situation that made me seriously consider placing Elijah in a school specifically tailored to developmental disorders or at least a completely separate classroom in a different school. I even briefly looked into private tutors/homeschooling. So what changed my mind?
Elijah attends a school here in Denver that practices a full inclusion model. However while many inclusion schools start with a typical classroom (like the school mentioned above) and add supports into that classroom for the kids with various additional needs, Sewall actually starts from the opposite perspective. Sewall starts with the premise that every kid has special needs and requires individual attention. Starting with a special needs base and integrating the lower needs kids into it results in a tremendously more successful model for everyone involved. The teachers are willing and prepared to take on children who can be more challenging….it’s not something that’s forced on to them because a child who needs more focus happens to live in their district. Parents can feel more comfortable because they know the teachers are comfortable and they never have to feel like their kid is the “problem kid.” Elijah’s made such tremendous gains in confidence, social and learning skills that it’s clearly a good fit for him. But what about for the “typical” kids? What benefit do they get? Elijah’s school is a 50/50 mix. What I’ve seen of the kids who are typical learners is that they benefit from significant increases in social skills, they learn faster because they are integrating the knowledge more by helping their peers learn and they are just genuinely nicer kids. As a society we could all benefit from a more empathic, nicer population.
I’m going to tell you another story, just to prove my point. A few months back I was in Target grocery shopping with Elijah. Elijah hates Target, it’s pretty much his idea of hell on earth, but in this case I couldn’t avoid taking him with me. We went down the aisle that had fruit snacks on it and there was a box of Dora the Explorer fruit snacks that got him excitedly chattering about Dora, Boots and Swiper. He kept pointing to the box and yes, I’ll admit it, I’m that mom who gave it to him to look at while we shopped and then didn’t buy it when we got to the checkout line (actually I may have this time, but that’s besides the point.) The box kept him happy and cooperative and allowed me to get the shopping done without him screaming the store down around our ears. As we went into the next aisle there were two little boys there, about 8 and 6 years old, with their mom. The two boys started quite loudly and rudely making fun of Elijah and the way he was talking. Their mother neither said nor did anything to stop or correct them. I honestly to this day can’t tell you how I kept my mouth shut and didn’t point out to the mother that she was raising a couple of bullies, but other than a nasty look in their direction I didn’t say a word to them and kept talking to Elijah and completed my shopping. If Elijah had been old enough and/or aware enough to be hurt by their cruelty I’m not sure what I would have done. I was and still am torn between whether the correct course of action was to take the high road and ignore it, or if in ignoring it I allowed such bad behavior to persist and exist in the world. That’s a topic for another day though. If more kids were in an environment like Sewall there would be fewer bullies in the world tormenting other children about whatever quality makes them different. Whether it’s the way they talk, or dress, or who their parents are or if they can’t walk…..more developed social/emotional skills will provide the training not to engage in that kind of behavior and also the training on how to handle it when the child is themselves the victims of it.
While I am still skeptical of a typical inclusion model, Sewall’s flipped model has been amazing for us and I will always be grateful for the educational gains Elijah has made under Sewall’s model of inclusion. I wish it was the more prevalent model and have spent a great deal of time agonizing about what happens after he gets past Sewall’s age range. While Elijah’s educational progress has been phenomenal, the more profound reason that I wish it was more prevalent is that it would reduce the number of kids who thoughtlessly make fun of others. In the case I described it did no harm to Elijah, but I know multiple children whose parents have worked extremely hard on building their confidence in dealing with other people and the situation I described above would have been crushing to them and possibly undone multiple months and years of work. So here’s hoping other schools jump on the “flipped inclusion” bandwagon and then we can have a happier society…..and I can stop having palpitations worrying about where Elijah is going to go to school once he’s seven!