A Place of Their Own

 I ended my last post with this brash statement:  “In the spirit of investigative blogging, the next few posts will be about the relationship between the concept of inclusion and different settings for different learning purposes.  I’ll be visiting some of these settings and describing what’s going on there.”

I’m not quite sure what “investigative blogging” is, or if it even exists, but it sounded open-minded enough to allow for some road trips and questions about what inclusion means, and I’m off to a good start on this quest.

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A place to work together or alone

My first stop was Errington Learning Centre (ELC), arguably the most unique program we have in Richmond for children with exceptional needs.  The Centre just opened in the fall of 2013. These wonderful photos were taken by  Director of Facilities, Clive Mason. 

There are only eight students enrolled, and at this point you may well be asking, “What’s the Errington Learning Centre?” Low profile it is, but it’s a remarkable space that’s been created to meet the needs of students who find the typical classroom completely overwhelming.

How do we know they’re overwhelmed? These students have ways of letting us know.  In a traditional classroom setting, they may lash out physically,  abruptly leave to find a place that is more calming, or dramatically withdraw emotionally.  At the Errington Learning Centre, the whole environment functions to support these students so that they remain calm, focused and ready to learn.

What’s so different here?  The ELC has a kitchen and spaces where students may come together to interact.  There’s also classroom-sized sensory room  with a slide, swings, water play area and even a large pit of foam blocks to dive into. The floor is soft, the lights don’t “buzz” and the background noise is eliminated. 

The ELC also has a few “quiet” spaces to go to when things are too overwhelming.  The whole atmosphere is calm, and the goal is to promote self-regulation. For more on self-regulation, check out this link: http://darcymullin.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/initial-thoughts-on-self-regulation/

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For children in the ELC, their previous classrooms, with their buzzing florescent lights, ebb and flow of students, constant distractions, confusing expectations and social mysteries, caused an emotional and neurological overload.  In these classrooms, their behavior was disruptive, to say the least. Despite our best efforts, they found it hard to blend in.

While I was at the ELC, a couple students were playing in the sensory room with supervision, and two more were hard at work in the group room with the support of their educational assistants.  This is their community, and they seemed comfortable in it.

The kitchen area - an important place in any home

The kitchen area – an important place no matter where you are

These quiet little scholars are a far cry from the disruptive and profoundly unhappy students they were last year.  In the past, some of these children needed to work with two educational assistants at the same time just to remain in the classroom.  Even with that kind of attention, things were often far from peaceful for them, their teachers or their classmates. 

While every day is not perfect at the Errington Learning Centre, each day has its successes, They may be measured in centimetres, not kilometres, but they are very real.  The children’s parents also report that they notice profound positive changes in their children at school and at home.

The ELC is not an end-point for students.  It’s a place where children will have the chance to regulate their behavior while maintaining their dignity along the way – something that the typical school setting is challenged to provide.

So here’s the question:

This is the place

This is the place

Is this setting compatible with how we’ve come to define inclusion, or does it run contrary to that idea, as the kids aren’t in the regular classroom?

I have my own opinion here, but I’d be interested in hearing yours.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “A Place of Their Own

  1. I think inclusion should always be the goal but I have worked with many students for whom the typical classroom is just not a viable option. I think the Errington Learning Centre is a much needed placement for our district’s most challenging students and Richmond should be proud that we can provide such a unique learning environment. Kuddos to SD #38

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Marci.. As the post states, “The ELC is not an an end-point for students.” It’s a small and inclusive community where they can belong, succeed and prepare to be in a larger community. That can ultimately include the typical classroom, but it can go beyond that too. There’s a big world out there, and our goal is to make sure all our students can be included in it in a meaningful way. Big picture, that’s the goal.

  3. Think about it as a quiet place at home such as the powder room in the busy living area full of kids and guests. Even as “typical” adult as us, you might need a moment in there to clear and reset ourselves and be ready to blend again. Richmond went total inclusion and then a necessary well-thought-designed-made area for the most challenged scholars. We are definitely at the front of the world in innovative learning services for all needed. Richmond rocks!!!

    • You have a good point here, Fred. We all need to have the chance to retreat and regroup, regardless of who we are. Seems to make sense to build that into the school experience when and if we can. It’s really about making sure there is private time along with the very public scenario of the typical classroom. Thanks for the comment, and I appreciate your enthusiasm,

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