Inclusion in Flagler means ALL!

During December 2011 over 100 Flagler County school support staff attended a professional development opportunity offered by the Florida Inclusion Network (FIN)/UNF and Flagler County Schools’ Superintendent’s Office. This training provided team-building activities to enhance school operations and improve customer service. County-wide support staff members learned how they could build positive attitudes and actions to create warm, nurturing, and inclusive environments for students, families, and staff.Participants got acquainted and shared with others across schools and grade levels as they engaged in activities like modeling inclusive practices. Focusing on the idea that student success is impacted by positive actions and attitudes, the group walked away feeling inspired and ready to implement new strategies at their schools and offices! Cindy Cashman, Executive Secretary at Wadsworth Elementary School sums up her experience:

“I loved how the training showed us that, even though every day we are resourceful and resilient, we still need to be thankful, approachable, and go beyond our expectations for all! The training was a fun and positive experience!”.
Apprehensive at first, participants found it fun to share!

More activities, lots of communication!

Like Cindy, FIN knows that everyone who interacts with a child during the school day has an opportunity to influence and shape that child’s life. Many thanks to the Flagler County School administrators, school board, and staff for realizing that everyone benefits from professional development that centers on success for all students.

We look forward to continued school and district partnerships that share the goal of building inclusive schools where all children learn and thrive!

Kimberlee Oakes
Libby K. Willis FIN/UNF
June 2012

Who Ya Gonna Call? The FINs!

“My son, Tony, is eight years old, has a twinkle in his eye, and a gorgeous throaty laugh. He also happens to have a pretty significant learning disability—he cannot read and struggles with writing. But he is brilliant in math!

Tony plays on sports teams through the city recreation department. He is a Webelo Cub Scout and is active in our church’s youth choir. It may sound like I am bragging, but this boy is a success everywhere…except in school.

I recently met with Tony’s teachers to talk about his educational plan for the coming school year. As I left the school, I felt confused about how he would get the right support in the regular fourth grade classroom. I was worried that Tony’s reading and writing difficulties would leave him frustrated and even further behind his classmates.

Then my friend Gwen told me about the Florida Inclusion Network (also called FIN) and how they could help with some of my questions. She gave me a number and encouraged me to call FIN the first Friday morning of the month, when they have a special time set aside just for families to call. After calling FIN all of my questions were answered and I understood just how Tony’s school could help my son learn and get the support he needed in the regular fourth grade class next year!

Although this is a fictional story, it represents a frequent scenario that plays out with families across Florida. It is not unusual for families of children with disabilities to have questions about inclusion and what it means for their child’s education. That is why the Florida Inclusion Network has created opportunities to connect with families in a personal way. They call it First Friday with the FINs. During each First Friday of the month, FIN Facilitators Sallie Payne, from FSU in Tallahassee, Karen D’Avignon, from UWF’s Fort Walton Campus, and M.J. Ziemba, from Escambia County District Schools look forward to connecting with families!

First Friday is a combination webinar and toll-free conference call that families can access from any location. While some parents dial in to chat or share issues and ideas, others join the online webinar to view and examine useful resources described by FIN Facilitators. Either way, those who participate enjoy the camaraderie…and learn something new!

Each one hour First Friday session begins with introductions and a bit of socializing to break the ice. Next, a FIN Facilitator demonstrates and describes practical family resources on topics related to inclusion. Afterward, the family members have time to share successes or concerns and ask questions. The facilitators address each member’s concerns in a positive and proactive way, offering information and suggestions to help them communicate and work more effectively with schools and teachers. And the group always takes time to celebrate each family’s successes, no matter how small!

These positive, solution-based conversations will soon reach across the Sunshine State to all Florida families. Beginning on September 7, 2012, at 10 a.m. Eastern or 9 a.m. Central time, First Friday with the FINs will be offered to families in every school district! Please visit the FIN website this summer for more information on how you can join a First Friday session next school year. We look forward to hearing from you!

(From top, left to right) Nicole Brown, Parent, Pensacola, M. J. Ziemba, FIN Facilitator, Escambia County , Karen D’Avignon, FIN Facilitator, UWF/Ft. Walton, Sallie Payne, FIN Facilitator, FSU, Susan Byram, Parent, Santa Rosa County, Judy Burns, Parent, Santa Rosa County

FIN Escambia
M.J. Ziemba
FIN Facilitator
April 2012

Having A Voice!

For most people, technology has become part of their daily lives. Many use the internet to email family, friends, and co-workers or to search for information on various websites. Some may use electronic devices to communicate and connect with others through social media outlets like Facebook or MySpace. Even young children use technology as they learn and play. These are all great uses of technology. But have you ever thought an iPad®, or other electronic device, could actually give someone a voice?

Imagine you are a teenager whose only means of communication is through the use of sign language – a language that very few people understand. What if you could understand what everyone was saying, but they couldn’t understand you?

For many years, this was a frustrating, daily experience for Stewart, a middle school student from Santa Rosa County. But just six months ago life changed for Stewart! During the summer of 2011, Stewart’s family collaborated with Karen D’Avignon from FIN and Judy Peacock from the Florida Diagnostic Learning Resources System/Tech (FDLRS/Tech) to help Stewart learn to use an iPad® as a communication device. Since that time, he has been using apps on his iPad® to open a whole new world of communication and language with others!

Like most teens, Stewart enjoys stopping by McDonald’s to pick up some hot French Fries and an ice cream Flurry. Before the iPad® gave him a voice, he had great difficulty communicating such food selections to McDonald’s employees. Pointing and gesturing were typically his only means of expression – making a counter order awkward and a trip through the drive-through out of the question!

Now an activity as ordinary as ordering food has gone from frustrating to enjoyable for Stewart. He simply turns on his iPad® and touches an app that allows him to select items from the store menu. As he touches each food choice pictured on his iPad®, the device says the item aloud, allowing him to make a verbal request like any other person in line. He can even request his food “to go” or “for here”. Stewart now knows there is nothing quite like a trip to McDonald’s where you can order food just like everyone else!

The Florida Inclusion Network offers professional learning opportunities to help families and educators take advantage of technology to maximize student learning. “There’s an App for That!” is a workshop that provides information on how to use iPads® and iTouches® to support learning and communication for students with disabilities, like Stewart, in and out of the classroom. For more information on professional development opportunities in your area, be sure to contact your local FIN Facilitator!

Stewart uses the iPad® to place an order at McDonalds.(upper left) A big smile as the food awaits! (upper right)
Stewart’s favorite foods are pictured at the top of his iPad® screen. (bottom)

Karen D’Avignon
FIN Facilitator
March 2012

Collaborative Leadership: Wendell Watson’s Secret to Building a Collaborative Culture

Walking through classrooms at Polk County’s Wendell Watson Elementary, one will find true collaboration with a single goal in mind: to meet the needs of ALL learners. Principal Kathy Giroux committed to building a collaborative culture when she first became the school’s instructional leader in 2006. This commitment was borne out of data analysis for Wendell Watson’s students with disabilities, which directly aligned with Giroux’s strong belief and passion for including students with significant disabilities in general education classrooms.

Admittedly, during her first year as principal, Giroux was in survival mode while adapting to her new responsibilities. During her second year, Giroux distributed staff surveys to see how general education and ESE teachers felt about collaborative teaching. Based on survey results, collaborative teaching teams were established and Giroux partnered with FIN to provide professional development and support that was tailored to Wendell Watson’s needs.

With the focused purpose of building a collaborative culture to support the needs of all students, Giroux conducted ongoing staff surveys to gather information on qualitative student data, identify teacher concerns, and allow for self-reflection. “I take those surveys and reflections very seriously then refine and tweak what we are doing.” Giroux expressed. “We are fortunate to have huge acceptance of inclusion here at Wendell Watson.”

Giroux explained that mutual respect among colleagues, students, and parents is a critical factor to the school’s success, along with administrative buy-in and everyone’s willingness to “get their hands dirty”. Success is also attributed to teachers engaging in ongoing communication, collaboration, and professional development related to instructional strategies.

Serving as a key player in building and maintaining a collaborative culture is the school’s guidance counselor, Kristi Barham. Barham also serves as a mentor for teachers, facilitates problem-solving and scheduling sessions, participates in IEP team meetings, and organizes professional development for teachers. “It’s simple— students will rise to our expectations.” Barham remarked as she explained how empowering teachers directly affects student achievement.

As with any commitment that requires work and creativity, implementing inclusive practices with fidelity at Wendell Watson has had its challenges. “I always ask what is best for the child. It is my mantra. Then we center ourselves before making a decision.” Giroux reflected.

Since 2006, the collaborative culture at Wendell Watson has grown into a norm where teams plan around all students’ needs and colleagues pool resources to collaborate and solve problems. Making educational decisions based on student need, ongoing progress monitoring, qualitative data, and reflection are key factors in building a collaborative culture where ALL students are expected to achieve. Imagine the progress the world would make if we could truly live by the Aristotle quote, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

Principal Kathy Giroux models collaborative leadership where everyone plays a part!

Collaborative Planning Equals Student Progress in Duval County

Taking advantage of Mini-Grants awarded by the Florida Inclusion Network (FIN), teachers from several Duval County schools are collaboratively planning to increase rigor and participation of students with disabilities in inclusive settings. School teams applied for the mini-grants after participating in workshops provided by the Florida Inclusion Network.Schools that are awarded mini-grants receive funds to offset the cost of substitute teachers so that general education and Exceptional Student Education (ESE) teachers can engage in collaborative planning during the school day. These teachers plan and work together for an extended amount of time, depending on the needs of their students. Collaborative teams schedule meetings monthly, quarterly, and on an “as-needed” basis in an effort to refine and adjust instruction to meet the unique learning needs of each student. Some schools use their funds to pay stipends for teachers who plan together beyond the work day.

At Loretto Elementary, teachers believe that collaborative planning provides opportunities for them to work together and make connections through examining their instructional practices, consulting with colleagues, and developing new skills. Another school, Abess Park Elementary, uses their funds to schedule quarterly meetings that allow collaborative teams to continuously monitor and assess student progress, evaluate teaching models, coordinate schedules and lessons for instruction, discuss and implement interventions, and build community among students with and without disabilities.

One of the mini-grant requirements is that teachers must include their Florida Inclusion Network facilitator in some of their collaborative planning sessions. The facilitator uses this opportunity to coach and mentor the teams after observing classrooms where the teachers implement lessons discussed during their collaborative planning time.

As a result of FIN support, teachers are working diligently to collaboratively plan. And the Duval County teacher teams are truly seeing a return on their investment of time and effort: Students with disabilities are learning and making progress in the general education curriculum and classroom!

Planning together has many benefits for Loretto teachers (L to R): Cheryl Freeman (Gr. 3),
Lou Whitaker (ESE-VE), Robin Soud (Gr. 3), Lisa Petrich (Gr. 2), and Jesse Lewis (ESE-VE)

FIN Duval
Beth Scanlan
FIN Facilitator
Feb 2012

Peer Support Program Launches in Broward County

In June 2011, participants from 14 secondary schools attended a Power of Peers workshop, offered through the Florida Inclusion Network (FIN)–Broward Project. Despite financial and personnel hardships in the district, several schools have begun the process of launching a Peer Support Program. Each program pairs students who have one or more significant disabilities with a peer assistant who provides natural academic and social supports in general education, content area classrooms.

Sonia Forbes, Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Teacher at Northeast High School, has been laying the foundation for the Peer Support Program this school year. With positive input from assistant principals Shernette Davis and Casey Burgs, and Peer Counseling Teacher Suzanne Murphy, Sonia has made connections between parents of students with disabilities, ESE teachers, and general education, content area teachers.

And the benefits are already paying off: Murat and Arnold are two students with disabilities who now attend Ms. Snow’s Biology class. Each boy works with Ms. Snow and their peer assistants, Christian and Rubi. Ms. Snow has shared that this is a great experience for ALL the students, but especially for Murat and Arnold, who have become active learners in the class! The Power of Peers is becoming a reality in Broward County!

Florida Inclusion Network (FIN)–Broward Great Idea! Award Winners

Give a great special educator from Broward County a new resource and you’ll get great ideas about how to use it! Three of our teachers explored a free, web-based resource called Vocaroo, which is a simple voice-recording website and tool (, to begin implementing ideas for its use with their students. Using a computer-based microphone, teachers and students can use Vocaroo to easily record a message, then download and listen to it as a WAV file, email it to someone, or post it to a website.

Melissa Walker of Millennium Middle School shared the website with content area teachers to use as an ‘auditory aide’ for students to hear and read classroom instructions. Gabriela (Gabby) McCauley of McArthur High School recorded task instructions for a student who uses an eye gazer device for communication–her student loves the recorded instructions! Gabby is also having students use Vocaroo as a tool to build reading fluency by having them read aloud and listen to their own voices. Stacey Wicker, a coach for students with autism at Park Springs Elementary records directions on a laptop placed at an independent center activity. Students replay the directions, as needed, while they work at the center. For sharing these fine ideas with others, our teachers were recognized with a Great Idea! Award and a new flash drive?to store their great ideas!!

Working Together to Expand Inclusive Opportunities

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people
can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
~ Margaret Mead

Over the last three years, a small (but growing) group of people from Abel Elementary in Manatee County has changed how and where their students with disabilities are educated. Not surprisingly, these changes have resulted in positive outcomes for these students–including academic, behavioral, and social gains. Additionally, the teachers, therapists, and paraprofessionals who work with these students have reported high levels of satisfaction with the changes that have been implemented.

The team from Abel participates in regular, on-going professional development and collaborative planning activities that have been supported by the Florida Inclusion Network (FIN) project at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and Manatee County School District’s Exceptional Student Education (ESE) office. One goal for the 2011–12 school year is to establish a “community of practice” that will bring together all members of the team on a regular basis so that they can talk, learn from each other, and grow individually and as a group.

Mike Muldoon, regional facilitator for FIN, says that “A mistake some schools make is trying to force students into a model of support that’s already in place, but the team from Abel started from scratch and has worked to create a system that is responsive to the needs of their students. The teachers and administrators are thoughtful about their decisions, always keeping the needs of their students in mind as the program grows. The supports that are provided may look very different from grade to grade and from teacher to teacher, but the key is that students receive the support they need in order to be successful.”

Abel Elementary received a grade of “A” for the 2010–11 school year (up from a “C” the previous year) and while this cannot be attributed exclusively to the expansion of inclusive practices, administrators and teachers believe there is a link. Judy Bayer, Abel’s principal, put it this way: “When an inclusion program has the appropriate criteria in place, as well as the commitment of everyone involved, success cannot be overestimated. At Abel Elementary, we have found significant gains in academic, social and emotional skills of students with and without disabilities in our inclusion classrooms. Standardized test scores have also improved significantly for both groups of students. With the ongoing support of the Florida Inclusion Network, our teachers have found they are better able to meet the individual needs of their students through a differentiated instructional process.”

Teacher Marlene Wallace (left) and paraprofessional Marsha Keefer (right) demonstrate parallel teaching with their 3rd grade students during the reading block.

Teacher Nicole Sefton (upper left), paraprofessional Tammy Cline (upper right), and teacher Theresa Collins (bottom) demonstrate station teaching with students during the math block in their multi-age, K-1 class.

Mike Muldoon
FIN USF St. Petersburg
December 2011

Although Azalea Park Elementary began this school year in a brand new building, the school’s transformation involved more than new structures, furniture, and materials—it involved a brand new philosophy of teaching and learning! When Ian Gesundheit was named principal of Azalea Park in March of 2011 he was surprised to find six self-contained classrooms for students with disabilities at his new school. He immediately took a survey of the teachers to determine their understanding of inclusive practices and laws surrounding the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities in general education settings. After analyzing and disaggregating student data and pouring over the Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) of students with disabilities, Mr. Gesundheit determined that the method used to determine the least restrictive environment for those students needed to be revisited.

As a result of his inquiry and data analysis, Mr. Gesundheit appointed an Inclusion Team and charged them with the task of deepening their knowledge and understanding of inclusive practices. Under the guidance of Lillian Sigler, Facilitator for the Florida Inclusion Network (FIN), and staff from the Orange County Public Schools ESE Instructional Support Department, Azalea’s Inclusion Team worked together to begin the process of building a more inclusive school. As a result of their efforts, the faculty came together to discuss their core educational beliefs. Once those were established and agreed upon, the teachers vowed to make all of their decisions and actions revolve around their newly adopted beliefs about teaching and learning. And the results of those decisions and actions are already resulting in positive change.

While Azalea Park Elementary is home to many new students who carry labels of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD), most of those students now spend the majority of their day in general education classrooms, with instructional supports provided by ESE teachers in the role of co-teachers or support facilitators. Due to the school’s new philosophy of inclusion, the teachers and families can see a stark contrast from last year’s six self-contained classrooms to only one classroom where students receive separate services this school year. Making such a shift in less than one year is a major accomplishment and a testament to the dedication of the administration and instructional staff at Azalea Park! Their newly adopted core beliefs are truly driving their actions, and most importantly, are resulting in many more students participating and making progress in the general education curriculum and in general education classrooms. Azalea Elementary is now a school where educational decisions are based on student learning needs and abilities rather than the diagnostic labels they carry.
What a transformation!

Ms. Quinn, Support Facilitator, provides explicit reading instruction

Ms. Quinn, Support Facilitator, provides explicit reading instruction

Technology helps broaden the instructional reach of Tier 1 increasing access and proficiency for all students.

Mrs. Zarefoss’ third grade class participates in Station Teaching

Elaine Brindley
FIN Orange
September 2011