Spring/Summer 2011

FIN/UNF Meets New Education Interns!

FIN/UNF has been very pleased over the past years to present to the interns entering the teaching profession at the University of North Florida. This fall, Dr. O’Farrell invited FIN to present to the new class of 117 young professionals. To see such an excited group of new teachers was inspiring! During the presentation, FIN provided each new intern with a bag of low tech assistive technology items and information on resources which should prove valuable to them throughout their teaching careers.

The feedback included comments such as:

  • “Thank you so much for being here for us—great ideas and things I plan to implement in the classroom.”
  • “I learned so many cool things I can use in the classroom. Thank you so much for the fun presentation!”
  • “ I LOVED this seminar! Thank you for coming.”
  • “I have already shared some of the strategies with teachers I know!”

Just remember that FIN’s Mission Statement is “To provide learning opportunities, consultation, information, and support to educators, families, and community members resulting in the inclusion of all students.” So when you need professional development or other assistance on inclusive educational practices that benefit all children in general education classrooms….think FIN!

UNF interns show great interest in inclusive practices!

Interns listen intently as Kimberlee Oakes provides information on inclusive practices.

Libby K. Willis & Kimberlee Oakes


August 2011

The Spotlight’s on Michelle-Devon Aire’s Prom Queen 2011!

Michelle Guergo has been included in general education at Miami-Dade County’s Devon Aire K–8 school since kindergarten. She is now graduating from the eighth grade and has been chosen by her peers, through a landslide vote, as Prom Queen!

Following are some thoughts from Michelle’s mother, Diane Guergo:

“Although we have known that Michelle is loved and liked by many, it was a humbling experience to see that she had been chosen as this year’s school Prom Queen. As a Pre–K ESE Teacher myself, I have experienced over 15 years of inclusion that works. In a very personal way, I know it works because Michelle is loved, respected, and a part of the school community. The administration and teachers have demonstrated to all students that differences should be embraced. Devon Aire is an exemplary school that has worked with us, as partners, during this beautiful journey. They are to be commended! There are many inclusion success stories and this is definitely one of them.”

Michelle Guergo, Devon Aire K-8 School Prom Queen 2011

Deidre Phillips, Miami-Dade County Public Schools
June 2011

Project DI: A Professional Development Collaborative for Differentiated Instruction

In the spring of 2010, Lisa Black, Supervisor of the Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) and Kindergarten programs in the Hillsborough County Public School District, had a vision of collaborating with the Florida Inclusion Network (FIN). Her goals were twofold: (1) to develop a workshop on Differentiated Instruction (DI) that would impact all kindergarten students, including those with disabilities in inclusive classrooms, and (2) to create a group of district trainers to support ongoing professional development efforts. Lisa and the local FIN facilitators knew that applying DI in inclusive kindergarten classrooms could result in all students having access to general education classroom curriculum and instruction. They also believed that kindergarten teachers who differentiate instruction could increase the academic and behavioral progress of their students, strengthening the Problem Solving/Response to Intervention (PS/RtI) process.

Beginning with their initial vision, the first year of a two year plan was initiated. Eight teachers from Citrus Park and Claywell Elementary schools participated, forming a vertical team that included a prekindergarten (pre-k), kindergarten, first grade, a pre-k Exceptional Student Education (ESE), and an elementary ESE teacher. During the 2010-2011 school year, team members participated in a series of four training sessions to learn about and apply DI in their classrooms.

During each session, these dedicated teachers gathered to share (1) how they implemented DI during their lessons, (2) the resulting student outcomes, and (3) ways to continually improve student academic and behavioral outcomes. The commitment of the vertical teams extended to two additional team meetings. During these meetings, the teams assisted with revisions and continued development of the DI training series that would become available to all Hillsborough County kindergarten teachers. Many teachers in the cohort group were excited about the opportunity to continue their professional growth and become a DI facilitator for their district-wide colleagues.

Outcomes of Project DI include the following:

Creation of vertical teams for training and school-based implementation that included the following:

  • 3 Kindergarten teachers
  • 1 First grade teacher
  • 3 Pre-Kindergarten ESE teacher
  • 1 Elementary ESE teacher

Out of the eight teachers completing the training, six elected to continue supporting the project by facilitating small group activities during future DI workshops.

Another outcome of Project DI was the development of the second phase of collaborative planning between FIN and the Elementary/Kindergarten Education Department of Hillsborough County. As part of that plan, two groups have been identified to participate in the professional development during the 2011-2012 school year:

  1. Group 1: Pre-k, kindergarten, and first grade—30 teachers (10 teams of 3)
  2. Group 2: Kindergarten only—40 teachers (20 teams of 2)

The above team members will be recommended by administrators interested in participating in the project. Ongoing training will be based on the guiding principles of DI and will support the following critical initiatives in Hillsborough County: Empowering Effective Teachers, PS/RtI, and educating students with disabilities in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). The Hillsborough County FIN facilitators will lead the training throughout the year, along with six teachers from the original DI teams who will facilitate small group activities.

The on-going DI project will provide teachers with the necessary tools and strategies to spark learning gains for all the students in their classrooms. Differentiated instruction promotes inclusive educational practices by encouraging students to become independent learners, promoting a classroom atmosphere in which teachers and diverse students work together, and giving each student the opportunity to succeed!

Teachers from Claywell and Citrus Park Elementary Schools participated in Project DI sessions during the 2010-2011 school year. Teachers are (from left): Joanne Manwaring, Teresa Lucas, Marcy White, Christine Dunne, Susan King, Jannella Garden, and Norbeth York.

Denise Frenz and Rose Calco

Support Facilitation Done Right!

Peek into Laurie Heath’s First Grade classroom at Hallmark Elementary School in Pensacola, Florida. If you are lucky, you might catch the class doing “Jack writing,” where the students describe and write about the adventures of a mascot doll named Jack as he travels around the world. First, the class writes a few descriptive sentences together. Ms. Heath then tells them to each use the sentences they have created to begin writing a story, but to change the sentences and make them “their own.” Every student in Ms. Heath’s class takes part in the instructional activity, including those with disabilities. Not only does the lesson differentiate for individual student writing readiness, but support is provided, as needed, by Sandee Bredesen, the Exceptional Student Education (ESE) support facilitation teacher. Working with an individual student, Sandee reviews ways to help him organize his ideas before beginning the writing assignment. As the student works confidently at writing his simple, yet precise, story Sandee moves on to assist other children.

At Allie Yniestra Elementary School, you can observe Susan Streeter’s fifth grade math students as they work together, in small groups, to solve algebraic equations using balances and Unifix Cubes™. You might notice Susan circulating and providing comments and support to student groups. You could also see Paula Greene, an ESE support facilitation teacher, doing the exact same thing! If you watch closely, however, you might detect one small difference: As Paula “checks in” with student groups, there is one group that she visits more frequently. Because she knows her students well, Paula anticipates who will need more direct support or re-teaching to complete the task of solving algebraic equations. This is support facilitation done right!

These two support facilitation teachers understand that providing instruction and support for students with disabilities in inclusive settings takes both planning and flexibility. Sandee reports that it is critical for her to know the teacher’s lesson plan in order to prepare for and provide support to the right students, at the right time. Since she is unable to meet weekly with all of her collaborative teams, she developed a form to gather information about each teacher’s upcoming lessons. Sandee says: “It’s short and fast, but makes a world of difference to the students!

As a first year support facilitator, Paula remembers her initial reluctance to teach in this way. Her partner teachers were a bit wary as well. After all, they had never had another teacher working in their classroom every day! After experiencing the benefits to students with disabilities, both Paula and her colleagues have come to believe strongly in the flexibility and effectiveness of the support facilitation model. Indeed, the teachers now see that the support provided through this model can benefit all the students in the classroom. And when you visit Allie Yniestra Elementary School, you can hear Paula say: “Our students and their data make the case for support facilitation as a viable teaching model!

Sandee Bredesen, Hallmark Elementary, Pensacola,FL, sharing an idea with her student.

Paula Greene, Allie Yniestra Elementary, Pensacola, FL and students enjoy a lesson.

M.J. Ziemba
April 2011

Collier County Demonstrates Continuous Improvement

Collier County School District has long been one of the state’s leaders in advancing quality inclusive education for students with disabilities. Their leadership position was attained through effective collaboration among parents, district staff, the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE), the Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resource System (FDLRS), the Florida Inclusion Network (FIN), the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD), Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), the Family Network on Disabilities (FND), the Network for Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities (SEDNET), and other community agencies. The collaborative efforts of these groups and individuals have led to many positive and tangible outcomes for Collier County’s local schools and the students and families they serve.

One such outcome is the opportunity for schools to obtain an extensive parent and staff resource library on topics related to students with disabilities. To qualify for the library, funded through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part B, Discretionary Grant, each school agreed to hold parent workshops on topics of interest such as Inclusion, IDEA, Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), Positive Behavior Support, Transition, and Collaborative Communication. The workshops and libraries are provided through the Collier County Public Schools Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Department’s parent advisory committee. The advisory is a collaborative partnership between family members, the ESE Department, FND, FDLRS, FGCU, SEDNET, and FIN to facilitate communication, training, technical assistance, and information dissemination to families of students with disabilities. To allow for greater cultural accessibility, the workshops have been presented in English, Spanish, and Creole. Collier’s goal is to establish a resource library, in every school, that will provide information to families of children with disabilities and the professionals that work with them.

Collier’s focus on providing information, training and support to families, educators, and other stakeholders has resulted in some impressive statistics. The district currently has 82% of their students with disabilities, ages 6–21, included in regular classes—a six percent increase from the previous school year. This percentage represents the highest in the state, along with four other counties. Collier County, however, has the largest student population of the five counties. To ensure student success, the district has approximately 270 ESE teachers providing instruction to students with disabilities in inclusive, general education classrooms. Approximately half of these ESE teachers are certified in both basic education and special education, allowing them the flexibility to teach in a variety of general education classrooms alongside their basic education colleagues.

Additionally, the number of students with disabilities, ages three through five, attending a regular early childhood program, at least 80% of the time, has increased. Fifty four percent of the students in the Preschool Disabilities Program are provided specially designed instruction in a regular early childhood program, such as Head Start and Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten. This reflects an 11% increase from the previous school year.

Another benefit of Collier County’s collaborative leadership is its designation as an exemplary school district by the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council (FDDC). This designation allows the district to participate in the FDDC’s Universal Education Project, which includes a collaborative approach to assessing and reviewing inclusive practices throughout the district. To identify current best practices and needs for improvement, the district’s advisory committee and administrative staff used an assessment tool titled Best Practices for Inclusive Education: An Assessment and Planning Tool for Systematic Change (BPIE), developed and facilitated by the Florida Inclusion Network. This collaborative assessment effort led to the development of a district-level Strategic Implementation Plan to address gaps in inclusive educational practices at the district level and to maximize the successful implementation of inclusive educational practices across all educational settings for students with disabilities.

Dr. Victoria Sartorio, members of her staff, Dr. Connie Bergquist of the Universal Education Project, Debbie Tihen of FDLRS, and Tim Kutz, Charles Frontz, and Jennifer Kincaid – School Principals

Bill Schulte, Sheri Wiseman and Joyce Austin

Tim Kutz, Chuck Frontz and Jennifer Kincaid

Stan Weser
February 2011

Inclusion in Practice

As we move further into the global diversity of the 21st century, it becomes more and more critical to recognize and value the individuality of each student in our schools. It is equally vital that we teach the social skills that will guide our students to understand and embrace their, and others’, unique qualities. To that end, the implementation of inclusive education is a fundamental and essential practice.

At San Pablo Elementary School, both general and special education teachers work together to provide instruction to students through inclusive structures and practices. Children who need specialized supports and/or services receive them within the context of general education classrooms, curriculum, and activities–alongside their peers without disabilities.

When observing classrooms at San Pablo, it is impossible to tell which students receive additional services because instruction is based upon the individual needs of each student, rather than disability labels or other categories. Working in partnership, general and special education teachers plan for, group, and teach all students based upon their individual strengths as well as their learning needs. Small group instruction is a daily practice, and student groupings are fluid and flexible: They change as the students strive to achieve or master goals associated with the Sunshine State Standards.

Inclusive education values diversity and allows the teachers at San Pablo to create equitable classroom communities where all children belong and learn together. Like many other schools, San Pablo has experienced major benefits to their implementation of inclusive practices. First, the academic growth of their students has been constant—all student subgroups have consistently made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Second, the students respect, work with, and encourage each other without regard to disability labels or differences. They are simply children . . . learning and growing side-by-side.

We are proud to say that San Pablo students are becoming the leaders of tomorrow who will understand and embrace diversity, and guide our global community further into the 21st century!

Helen Henderson and Sara Russo work together to prepare students for FCAT.

Helen Henderson and Mary Allison Bass work with students in cooperative groups.

Michelle Scott works with student pairs analyzing peer writing in preparation for 4th grade FCAT Writes!

Kim Bays, Principal, San Pablo Elementary School
Beth Scanlon
Duval FINs
February 2011

The Vote is in! George Jenkins High School’s Homecoming King Creates a Culture Where EVERYONE Belongs!

Zachary Briggs is usually seen sporting gold and green body paint at Lakeland’s George Jenkins High School (GJHS) football games. A popular member of the GJHS “Spirited Skin Team”, Zachary was thrilled when the student body voted him as 2010’s Homecoming King!

Zachary, who happens to be a student with an intellectual disability, won the hearts of his classmates and teachers through his exuberant school spirit, incredible dance moves, and passion for removing the “R” word from the GJHS vocabulary. Zachary’s girlfriend, Rebecca Jones, who also has a disability, was voted the second runner-up as Homecoming Queen for the 2010 GJHS Homecoming Court. With just one day to campaign for the Homecoming King title, Zachary placed posters and distributed lanyards, with his and Rebecca’s photos, around the school. However, Zachary had already won the hearts of his fellow students long before the day of the vote. Zachary’s accomplishments have obviously had an impact on removing barriers for students with disabilities, such as negative labels and attitudes, and have paved the way for them to be recognized as part of the whole school community.

Zachary’s popularity also stems from his participation in GJHS general education classrooms, which began due to the strong support of the school administration, the dedication of his teacher, Melanie King, and the support from a paraeducator, Nichole Brown. Although Zachary was already included in Physical Education classes, Ms. King knew he needed more opportunities to learn alongside his peers without disabilities. Ms. King began by surveying the general education elective teachers about enrolling Zachary into their classes. Due to his high interest in working with horses and other livestock, the Agriculture Department welcomed Zachary as they would any other student. Zachary now has his sights set on taking a pottery class next semester!

Aside from his school classes, Zachary stays very active in extra-curricular and athletic activities. He enjoys participating in Youth Fair and Special Olympics, where he has competed in softball, basketball, swimming, golf, and track. Future goals include Cotillion, and art and Zumba classes, where he can continue to explore his greatest passions—creativity and dance!

Because of one dedicated teacher, Ms. King, Zachary and many other students are deeply involved in school-wide advocacy activities. In an effort to create an environment that values diversity at George Jenkins High School, Ms. King founded and sponsored the Disability Awareness Club, which nominated Zachary and Rebecca for the homecoming court. The Disability Awareness Club is made up of students with and without disabilities. One major campaign launched by the club was to banish the “R” word from fellow students’ vocabulary. Through promotion of the awareness campaign and sharing of knowledge about the detrimental effects of using negative labels in their daily conversations, the entire school community embraced the campaign. During the first semester, the club acquired 522 signatures of students pledging to permanently remove the “R” word from their vocabulary.

Zachary, a true pioneer in creating a school culture where ALL students belong and are valued, is a living example of what can happen when all members of a school community erase negative labels and come together to support and honor each other!

For more information and resources on how you and your school can end the “R” word, check out the Website: http://www.r-word.org/

Homecoming King, Zachary Briggs, with Principal Buddy Thomas and second runner-up Homecoming Queen, Rebecca Jones, proudly represented GJHS’s Disability Awareness Club

Melanie King, teacher; Rebecca; Nicole Brown, paraeducator; and Zachary Briggs

Homecoming Campaign posters created by the Briggs family

Elaine Brindley
FIN Orange

October 2010

Translate »