Pam Hickox no longer worries about whether her son is included at school.
Her third-grader, born with Down syndrome, is placed in classes with students who don’t have disabilities. Normally, students with disabilities are pulled out.
Newberry Elementary School has been trying new technology to ease interaction between special education students and their peers and teachers.
A couple of months ago, the school started using iPads with some of its special needs students.
Other assistive technology may include a special pencil grip, a slant board and a device allowing nonverbal students to push buttons and play prerecorded messages, such as “yes” and “no.”
“We’re always looking for new things — things that we can incorporate into our education plan that help meet those kids’ needs,” Principal Lacy Redd said.
Redd started the school’s inclusion model seven years ago. With help from special education teachers and assistive technology, the inclusion model changes and improves to best fit the needs of its students.
First-grade teacher Morgan Martin was unfamiliar with some of the technology when the school started using it.
“I was like, the only Big Mac I know comes from McDonald’s, and I have no clue what you’re talking about,” Martin said.
Now, she uses the devices to help give a quadriplegic student in her class a way to communicate.
Including the special needs students in the regular classroom is positive for those without disabilities too, she said.
“Other kids don’t see him as just this person who floats in our room and leaves,” Martin said. “They see him as their friend.”
Susan Ling and her family moved to the Newberry area before her daughter started kindergarten.
Her daughter, now in fifth grade, was diagnosed with apraxia, making it difficult for her form sounds and words.
“I am blessed that there are wonderful teachers who go above and beyond to come up with ways to help my daughter succeed,” Ling said.
In Florida, all students, disability or not, are expected to pass the FCAT. Redd said Newberry has seen better test scores since the school integrated the inclusive teaching style.
According to the most recent data, Newberry has had the highest percentage of third and fourth grade students with disabilities pass the FCAT compared to the rest of the state.
As recently as 2010, about 85 percent of Newberry’s third graders and 65 percent of its fourth graders with disabilities passed the FCAT. The state average that year was around 40 percent.
This time next year, the FCAT will be replaced by a test aligned with the new Common Core State Standards. This could present new challenges for Newberry’s students with disabilities.
Special education teacher Teri Jones said the school would respond as it always does. It will adapt and keep the needs of the students at the forefront.
“We will make sure we are teaching the students the strategies they need to be as successful as possible on whatever test is the flavor of the year,” Jones said.