To my readers, I am sorry I haven’t written a post since the beginning of the year. There has been so many things that have happened and I’ll fill you in using a different post. I will say I am ending another semester toward my Special Education Elementary Education degrees and had the most rewarding volunteer experience I’ve had since Serious JuJu!
This particular blog post is for my Cultural Diversity in Education course I am taking at Yavapai College. Please read, share, and be encouraged.
I selected a site that is near and dear to me, Cupertino’s Power Learning Center in Cottonwood, AZ. I am excited about this opportunity because I have a son with autism and will be a Special Education Elementary teacher when I graduate. I have never seen a school specifically for disabilities and autism before, however I understand how my son learns as I home schooled him for five years. I expect to see consideration for family culture and background, including the individual needs of the students. Each student has different abilities and needs in the classroom, therefore each student has unique needs in the home. The parents and/or caregivers of the students have special circumstances regarding family makeup and cultures, and different education and daily living goals. Family participation is critical in introducing these students to different cultural traditions and backgrounds as many students with disabilities and autism are segregated in schools, and live solitary lives due to their rigorous therapy schedules and unpredictable behaviors(LO 4, 8, 6). The teachers will need to select reading material to include disabilities and abilities across the cultural spectrum to see themselves in the stories (LO 9). With a small group of students, such as this year’s enrollment, the teachers will need to be aware of balancing the types of activities to include boys and girls alike. Instead of having all physical activities such as basketball, there will need to have some activities such as dancing to music or yoga, which are primarily seen as a “girl’s” sport (LO 7).
I was excited to begin volunteering and observing a classroom where the students have the same diagnosis with different abilities. The first day, I met them at the school and then we volunteered at the Food Bank on Mingus Ave. I saw many encouraging and inclusive ideas throughout the school building, not just in the classroom. I saw they had just finished the book “The Wonder Book,” by R. J. Palacio. There was a poster board hanging in the lunch room which had the themes of the book, such as empathy, kindness, bullying, and courage to name few. Each student was able to write or narrate their ideas about the theme they chose. There was another board that has questions that the students “wondered” about with a place to find the answer and where they found the answer, such as asking another student or adult or looking it up in a book. In the classroom, there were desks, couple of tables, white board with projector, and shelving holding books and puzzles. On the walls there were posters with encouraging sayings on them, whiteboard with class jobs, the schedule was posted, and yoga positions for when the student needs a movement break. Each student has a paraprofessional working with them using a variety of communication styles. Some were using whiteboards, some were using PECS styled systems, and some are verbal and do not need communication assistance. The students are varied in ethnicity, ages, abilities, and learning styles.
The school’s culture is one of diversity and inclusion. I did see cultural pluralism because each individual student’s needs were met when the need arises, such as movement breaks even though it might be in the middle of a lesson. The teachers and paraprofessionals understand that the student cannot learn if the student cannot engage in the material and sometimes a swing on the swing or a run around the field is needed to re-center the student before engaging in the material. I did not see where one culture was dominating over another, even in gender because there were more boys than girls. The books on the shelves were as equal in gender and ability as it could get. I did not see any hidden curriculum as the teacher taught across the spectrum, whether it was cultural diversity or diversity in abilities.
There were multiple versions of the subject books to teach from, various instructional tools printed from the internet, and different read-aloud group books to choose from. The read-aloud book that was being read when I was there was “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” which have varied socio-economic status, education levels, and even ethnicity as one child was German. The previous book was “Wonder Book” which covered all kinds of emotional responses to a child with a facial disfigurement. One day, the teacher was reading from a book, “Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism.” She sent home a questionnaire about the students and family culture to coincide with the teachings of this book. She also uses videos from the internet to strengthen the learning for those who prefer visual assistance over auditory learners.
I never saw any kind of segregation from the students or the teachers. All participated and interacted freely with each other. Because the students have autism, prejudices and discrimination may not be present. The students are from varied backgrounds and ethnicity and I did not see anything that would make me question their sincerity toward each other.
Parents are encouraged to be involved. I saw an invitation for yoga classes on Wednesdays that are open to the public as well as families of the students. The school as a whole volunteer weekly at the Food Bank on Mingus Ave. This introduces the students to employment opportunities and to other community members. This activity also introduces the community members to children with autism and disabilities. The school also offers Kris’ Camp during spring break which is opened to the public. As the school grows, this is its first year, there will be more specific ways parents can contribute to the education and classroom.
I did not see where the boys needed more space over the girls, or stereotypical interactions. I believe that is due to the nature of the diagnoses and the intuition of the paraprofessionals working with the students. Any time a student needs a break the paraprofessional attempts to fulfill that need whether it’s in the classroom or not. During classwork time, the teacher calls on each student equally, even those who are nonverbal.
I would say the language learners would be the nonverbal students. There are three and they are so vastly different from each other. They all need assistance in answering questions and having input on the subject at hand. The paraprofessional chooses the style for the day, unless the student is not working well with that style of communication, for example picture system or whiteboard. Each day the student/para combination is changed and this challenges the student to work with various teachers.
Cultural awareness is supported in the school. Each student has the opportunities to share their own experiences and stories, the books on the shelves have different ethnicities, and the yoga poster has women of color. The students vary in ethnicity and so do the teachers/paraprofessionals. The classroom is very welcoming. The only thing I would add, would be free reading books with more cultural diversity. I’d be more aware of what books I chose. I know it’s difficult to find books written by different ethnicities and those about different ethnicities. I think it’s worth taking a bit of time to find them. I would also look for familiar books written in a different language, such as Cat in the Hat in Spanish. Honestly, all in all, this school has most everything in a well-rounded education for these kids and families.
I cannot say enough great things of this learning experience! It was a great relief to see other students such as my son, Thomas. It was great to see how each teacher/paraprofessional worked with each student; each paraprofessional worked differently with each student. I am encouraged to watch the interactions between the teachers and students, how each professional was intuitive toward the student. It was a beautiful dance between educator and student, between the one who needs guidance and the guide, sometimes not being able to tell the difference between the two. The professionals worked as a group with each individual student and as a group of students. I found my desire to assist the students and my knowledge of autism behavior triggers created a great conundrum.
During this experience, I have seen amazing examples of how multicultural education is implemented in a private school for disabilities. I have seen how the teacher includes the families in the learning by inviting them to participate in yoga on Wednesday evenings, by answering questions regarding “Uniquely Human” regarding their student, and having a diverse student body (LO 3). Each student participates in the learning experience in the way that is uniquely them. Some use iPads, white boards, cards, and some are verbal and can communicate using spoken language. Having a diverse student bodies enables their ethnicity to come through when the students participate in the education process. Because each student learns differently, teachers use various modes of instruction including videos and audiobooks (LO 4). The teachers work with the students in communication styles needed for participating in the lessons. She is sensitive to the ethnicity of each student and incorporates their backgrounds into the lessons. This enables each student to learn about the other students ethnicities (LO6). Emily ensures the students are learning to the requirements of the state. She digs in and finds different books to teach the students in the ways they are capable of learning. I saw during the “Wonder Book” she encouraged the students to use critical thinking in their wondering and when they wrote their reports about the book, they were able to pull passages from the book and their own unique experiences to write the “wonder” board.
I cannot wait to volunteer again!