Spring / Summer 2010

Blazing Trails for Inclusion

Sarasota County’s Taylor Ranch Elementary School recently partnered with the Florida Inclusion Network/USF St. Petersburg as they began the process of expanding inclusive practices throughout their campus. We thank Melodie Deeds, Assistant Principal at Taylor Ranch Elementary, for sharing the results of their efforts:

At the beginning of the 2009–10 school year, the Taylor Ranch administrative team met with teachers to review our students’ performance on state and district assessments and the current model of support for students with disabilities. While Taylor Ranch received a school grade of “A” for the 2008–09 school year, we did not make AYP. A detailed examination of the data indicated that most of our students with disabilities were pulled out of their general education classrooms to receive support in reading and math. The team decided that, in order to increase our students’ achievement in the general education curriculum, we needed to move to a model of in-class support. This is when we began our partnership with FIN!

As part of this collaborative effort, FIN USF St. Petersburg provided a series of professional learning opportunities about inclusion and collaborative teaching to a team of Exceptional Student Education (ESE) and General Education teachers. In addition, opportunities were provided for grade-level teams to talk and plan together. Our teachers were eager to try out the new practices in their classrooms, resulting in numerous success stories throughout the year. As a result of this training, an unexpected yet exciting partnership developed between one of our self-contained ESE teachers and one of her neighboring first grade teachers. The teachers were able to identify common curricular goals for their students and decided to co-teach lessons in math. Our students and teachers loved this experience and the teachers are planning to collaborate again during the 2010–11 school year.

But, wait! Here is the REALLY big news! The percentage of students with disabilities in third through fifth grades that scored level 3 and above on the FCAT increased from 54% to 63% in mathematics and from 52% to 67% in reading! Our school grade was once again an “A” but this time we made AYP! To top it all off, during Sarasota County’s annual Leadership Institute, Taylor Ranch’s administrative team was presented with a “Truvi Award” for having the largest reduction in the achievement gap for students with disabilities in both reading (grades 3–5) and science (grade 5)!

Our teachers and administrators are committed to providing a responsive instructional model that supports all students and we will continue to implement inclusive practices, differentiated instruction, and positive behavior support throughout the 2010–11 school year.

Think! Reach! Shine! Taylor Ranch Trailblazers!


Maritza Almodovar, ESE support facilitation teacher (left) and Jackie Drisgill, English II teacher work on lesson plans for co-teaching.



Mike Muldoon
FIN/USF St. Petersburg
September 2010


FIN/UNF’s Online Training ROCKS!

FIN/UNF is proud to spotlight our first online, synchronous, professional development! With gas prices going up, up, up and lives becoming busier at home and at work, FIN/UNF facilitators began looking for more convenient ways to provide learning opportunities to local school districts. These efforts resulted in our first online training titled In Class Supports. This training is offered to all teachers (general education and Exceptional Student Education-ESE) and para educators working in inclusive environments. Also, guidance counselors, staffing specialists, and administrators are invited to join in this fun, innovative, and informative professional development experience!

The synchronous (live), online training focuses on the use of in-class support models (support facilitation, co-teach, etc.) to increase student achievement in inclusive classrooms. The In Class Supports training is offered several times throughout the year and other districts (not only those within the FIN/UNF service area) are invited to join!

Just think: No driving in heavy traffic, no high gas prices, no having to get dressed up– no travel at all. Indeed, participants can enjoy learning and collaborating with others from the comfort of their own homes! And all participants completing the training series receive a Certificate of Completion as well as a stipend! Now, you can’t beat that!

We have to caution you though…certain things are necessary for an effective online learning experience: You need to have high-speed internet access, plus a headset with a working microphone. As you participate, you’ll understand why! This is not a “sit and get”–you will be actively involved and learning with others. Through an online Bulletin Board, you will work together and share ideas. You just can’t beat this new way of learning and networking with colleagues!

And…that’s not all…we have some data to support what we “hoped” would happen!
FIN/UNF field-tested this professional development during the Summer of 2009. And the “In Class Supports” training has been offered four times since!

Over 160 teachers, para educators, and administrators, from 15 school districts across the state, participated in the online training. Upon completion, participants were asked to respond to the following two questions, using a scale from one to six: with six representing the highest rating. Following are the average ratings for each question:

1. To what extent will you use what you learned from the training? 5.2
2. To what extent will you recommend the training to others? 5.5

We also asked participants to share their thoughts on the class and here are a few of their responses:

“I have loved every minute of the In-Class Supports course online! Not only did I learn about my roles as the support facilitator for my school, I also learned more about myself as a person and a teacher. I also got to know several other teachers on a much different level than before, which has been so encouraging! I wish we could have had longer sessions–an hour absolutely flew by, and we were finished before I knew it each week. What an amazing way to talk to others from different backgrounds and school situations, knowing we all had one thing in common-the best interests of the students we teach and work with every day. I highly recommend this class for anyone who works with students who have special needs in the general education classroom setting. Opening the doors to communication between teachers and giving us a way to facilitate that communication is priceless!”
Kathy Hunt – Macclenny Elementary

“I love the interaction on the computer. The online course was both fun and informative. My co-teacher and I sat side-by-side and completed the course together.”
Kylee Sexton, Williams Elementary School

“I loved the flexibility and layout of the course! Kimberlee and Libby, along with the Elluminate program, made class time easy, fun, and interesting.”
Kirsty West – Macclenny Elementary

“It is an insightful and interactive way to do our professional development. It doesn’t hurt that we have excellent facilitators handling the courses, too.”
Amy Judah – Westwood Middle School

FIN/UNF truly thanks all of our former participants for their input and for their participation! What really made this online experience successful was the participation of fabulous educators!

More courses are being planned for the fall! Aren’t you ready to join us in this adventure? We hope so! For more information on this, and other online learning opportunities, please contact your FIN facilitator via email—just click on “Meet the FINs” and select “Find Your FIN” or choose your local FIN office from the drop down menu!

Kimberlee Oakes & Libby Willis

FIN/University of North Florida
June 2010


Miami Carol City Senior Chiefs: Expanding Inclusive Education!

The FIN/Miami-Dade Project is excited about working with Miami Carol City Senior High School to expand inclusive opportunities for students with disabilities. Over the years, Miami Carol City has seen a positive change in students with disabilities taught in inclusive settings. Since Miami Carol City has always been an inclusive high school, they continue to draw upon past experiences to effectively increase inclusive practices and boost student achievement.

One example of student success comes from the co-teaching team of Ms. Anderson (ESE) and Ms. Connor (Reading). As a result of their collaborative teaching efforts, students have demonstrated an increase in reading achievement over the past four years. Both teachers believe that the classroom atmosphere and teacher-student interactions make learning engaging, interesting, and unavoidable. With these elements in place students’ are motivated to increase and apply their reading skills not only in their reading class, but across the school day!

When we asked Ms. Anderson, Ms. Connor, and the Assistant Principal, Mr. Styles, what inclusive education means to them, they replied: “Inclusion is a place where all minds can collectively learn”. I must say we agree!


Ms. Anderson, Ms. Connor, and their students hard at work in teacher-led centers.

Deidre Phillips
FIN/ Miami Dade
June 2010


Claywell Elementary School Shines with Inclusion!

At Hillsborough County’s Claywell Elementary School, inclusive education is a vision, a commitment, and a work in progress. The administration team at Claywell began building their inclusive community during the 2008-2009 school year, resulting in the school wide implementation of inclusive practices this year. As the journey toward inclusive practices continues, success stories are beginning to emerge! Some of the outcomes for students this year include academic learning gains, increased appropriate behaviors, and positive peer interactions.

But one Claywell teacher has a special story to share:

Arielle, a first grade student at Claywell, has a delightful spirit, is cooperative, and extremely independent. While she enjoys learning, Arielle is somewhat different from her peers in that she needs support with hearing and speech. She has been a student at Claywell since she was three years old, however, prior to this school year Arielle received all her educational supports and services in a segregated, special education classroom. Now Arielle spends her entire day in a general education classroom, alongside her peers without disabilities, where she gets the support she needs to hear, speak, and learn.

One morning Arielle arrived to school late with her Dad. She needed a tardy slip in order to enter class. Usually, an adult would communicate her need for a tardy slip and the reason for her tardiness. Not this morning! Arielle explained to the office staff that she had been sick the day before, but was feeling better. She also shared how, that morning at home, she made her own lunch… and now wanted to go to class! The office staff were impressed with Arielle’s articulate account of her morning activities and understood her request to go to class.

Arielle’s success with expressing herself and being understood by the office staff is truly a reason to celebrate, considering she was essentially non-verbal when she started at Claywell! Her fabulous parents, teachers, and the entire staff at Claywell have seen great progress in Arielle’s learning during her year in first grade. Arielle’s success is clearly a result of the supports she has received from teachers and paraeducators. The effectiveness of collaboration between general education teachers, Exceptional Student Education (ESE) teachers, paraeducators, the speech-language pathologist, and administrators is evident. Arielle continues striving to communicate and express herself clearly. Her improvements in speech are an achievement that will certainly carry her through many more years of learning and friendship!


Students work in pairs on a math task as teachers Jenelle Garden and Norbeth York facilitate student learning.

Students work in pairs on a math task as teachers Jenelle Garden and Norbeth York facilitate student learning.


Vicky Barnitt
FIN/USF Tampa
May 2010


Diversity and Disability: Fostering Understanding at Pensacola Junior College

Sometimes warily, often with great enthusiasm, the students in Jane Spruill’s Diversity in Education Class at Pensacola Junior College (PJC) greet M.J. Ziemba from the Florida Inclusion Network (FIN) as they enter the room. Seeing a variety of colorful handouts, the students file calmly past, picking up one copy of each.

“You are in for a treat”, Ms. Spruill says, as she introduces M.J. to the group: “Ms. Ziemba is here from the Florida Inclusion Network to describe ways that students with disabilities receive support in schools. Listen carefully and ask questions. This is a great opportunity to find out what you’ve always wanted to know, but have been afraid to ask, about the students with disabilities who will be in your classrooms”.

Thus begins a fast paced hour structured as Seven Things You Need to Know about Inclusion. Students take guided notes as M.J. talks, then partners share memories during one activity. They gather in groups of four to review the first parts of the mini-lecture. They become cooperative teams: putting their heads together to determine answers to a set of “best practice” questions. They become thoughtful as they view a video, titled I’m Tyler, which describes the support provided for a student named Tyler–enabling him to participate fully in the everyday life of high school.

M.J. describes the recurring event: “I am so grateful to Ms. Spruill for giving me the opportunity to discuss inclusion at the very beginning of these students’ PJC education. The students often describe a friend or family member for whom they wish school had been more inclusive. They ask excellent, thought-provoking questions. They seem eager to be fair and supportive for students with disabilities. It gives me great hope for our future!”


Students share memories.

M.J. Ziemba works with PJC students.

Students give each other one good idea.


M.J. Ziemba
FIN/Escambia
April 2010


Inclusion Benefits Everyone!

This story was provided by Theresa, mother of Annie, from Brevard County, Florida. The Brevard County Public School District has actively pursued successful inclusion and has worked extensively with the Florida Inclusion Network to achieve their inclusion goals. The story of Annie and her best friend Micah is told below, as seen through a mother’s eyes:

Annie is seven. This is her second time around in kindergarten, and it is her first time in public school in an inclusive setting. There are a few children with IEP’s in her class and the rest are typically developing. She is very excited about going to “big school” and loves being with all the children in this large school of 1000 students, Pre-K through 6th grade. Her kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Stokes-Holtrop, (referred to as “Mrs. H”), enjoys teaching the class and does an incredible job of instilling kindness and tolerance for all differences. After the first couple of months I started hearing stories about Annie’s “best friend”, Micah. I heard many things, like how he made sure that she stayed with the class on the way to the lunchroom and helped explain her desires when the other children had a hard time understanding her speech. He protected her when some did not understand why her eyes looked the way they did after her corrective surgery and he helped her get up the ladder to the slide. Micah has such a sweet tender heart and they both love each other very much.

What I did not understand is how Annie was helping and supporting her friend Micah.

While volunteering in the classroom, I observed that Micah is a very active five year old, typically developing, but, VERY active. Micah is somewhat impulsive and has trouble keeping still—pretty typical for a kindergartner if you ask me. During Thanksgiving week, I saw Micah’s mom at the Kindergarten Feast. She pulled me aside and started telling me a little about Micah’s preschool days. She explained that Micah had been kicked out of every preschool he had been enrolled in. She told me that he never had a best friend like Annie, one that would stick with him through thick and thin. She said that he has never had a buddy whose face lights up the moment he walks into the room the way Annie’s does. You see, Annie loves Micah unconditionally–no matter how much trouble he gets into, she loves him just the same. Micah never enjoyed a friendship like that. Micah’s mom went on to tell me that, due to his preschool experience, Micah had a very low opinion of himself. She wanted me to know that because of his friendship with Annie, Micah was thriving in kindergarten and now had good self esteem. She expressed sincere appreciation for all Annie has done to help her son be successful in kindergarten.

It took about an hour for her words to sink in. Can you imagine? She was thanking us for Annie’s friendship! Wow, our kid was helping and supporting another child… making a difference in another child’s life! Our kid! Our Annie has relied on the help and support of her friends since her first day of infant preschool. Now someone was telling me that she was the one helping–truly helping!

Annie is not the only one helping Micah through his first year in public school. Mrs. H sees the positive in all children and uses their strengths to help them learn. She is instrumental in pulling together a classroom full of children with many differences and is teaching them that every single child has value and contributions.

Mrs. H saw Micah and Annie’s relationship grow and described it beautifully for me:

She writes, “Since the beginning, Micah and Annie ‘took’ to each other with a warmth and joy that is obvious to others. While many of the children like to be a friend to Annie–helping her in many different ways–none of them understand her the way Micah does. Micah doesn’t see Annie as having a disability, but rather as having ‘different abilities.’ The way he rushes to her side when she needs a gentle reminder during a transition or helps zip her coat on a cold day–he does these things without hesitation and without expectation of reward, but purely because she’s his friend, and in that moment, she needs his help. When they interact with each other, there is a connection in the way they make eye contact and literally bounce around together in their happy world. Micah sees that even when he isn’t making the best choices, Annie stands by his side, ready to give that big beautiful smile of approval for all of the wonderful things that make him who he is–most notably, his genuine friendship. He can stand tall, knowing that when his other friends have turned away because of a silly impulsive choice, Annie will be there to show him that he is more than his abilities. In so many ways, they both exemplify for all of us what true friendship should be, and in the most amazing way, they give and receive from each other the very same things. Watching the two of them together, seeing the progression of their friendship and how each of them has grown because of their impact on each other has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my teaching career. A relationship like this gives me hope for the future that is being created by children like Annie and Micah.”

Mrs. H is providing a gift to Annie’s classroom–they are all learning to read and write but the most important thing she is teaching them is the lesson of tolerance, acceptance, and love. I have read study after study that shows how welcoming children with disabilities into the general education classroom benefits all. I never thought I would personally experience it in this way. What a blessing this year has been. We are so hopeful that the rest of Annie’s public education will have such a positive impact and are so grateful to Mrs. H for orchestrating this beautiful, inclusive setting where all the children can blossom!


Best friends, Annie and Micah


Dr. Laura Verry-Sidoran
FIN/UCF Brevard
April 2010


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