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.
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/
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.
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:
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.