Inside California Education: Kids Are Just Kids in Sanger

♪♪ “Good morning Tej!” Christina: Third grader Tej
starts his morning like any other student at Lincoln
Elementary School in the town of Sanger,
located just east of Fresno. Students: … indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all. Christina: After a quick
assembly on the blacktop Students:”1-2-3: Happy
birthday Mighty Rams!” Tej heads to an English
class where the lesson of the day is about
California Native Americans. Teacher: If I put this up on
the wall, am I going to be able to read it? Yes! Yes. Christina: The eight year old
has severe vision impairment and sometimes
struggles to stay on task. That’s why he’s considered
a special education student here at Lincoln. But you wouldn’t know it by
watching his interactions with other students. Tej: Robin: That is the best
thing about our school, is that they
are just students. You have kids who are just
identified as intellectually disabled, we have
students with autism, students with down syndrome,
we have some students with muscular dystrophy. A lot of times, in you know,
a special day class you’ll have kids in the back
corner of the school, that you don’t see. They have their own lunch,
they have their own table, they have their own recess,
they’re not part of the school, they’re not
part of that culture. And our kids, this
is their school, this is their home. Christina: Mainstreaming,
as it’s known, is happening in schools
all across California. But here in Sanger, the
percentage of special education students who are
mainstreamed into academic classes is
exceptionally high. Most special education
students here spend at least 60 percent of their day in
regular academic classes with the support of an aide. Teacher: “How is this
sentence going to be? How are you going to write?” And all special education
students are mainstreamed for at least
one class a day. Leo: We know
other districts, what they’ll do,
they’ll do recess, they’ll do P.E.
and lunch, and we said, ‘No,
we want to do academics,’ because we saw some
strengths in our kids, what we knew, with a little
bit of support they can access the
core curriculum. “Sit down at your seats.” Christina: Robin Berger
has taught special education students for more than 20
years in the Sanger Unified School District. Robin: “Can you break it apart
and find a new word in there?” Around 2005, the district
began making a focused effort to mix special
education students with general education students. Robin: It was gradual, it
was really, really slow. Okay, you know what, they
can walk with their GenEd, um, peers to lunch. Or, they’re at
recess with them. And then it was,
okay, we’re gonna, you know, get them
to the field trips. And it was just
these little baby steps. And then it was
like, you know what, they could really go
into a GenEd class, and they could really
gain that information. And, it gives them a
typical school experience. Kimberly: The other thing
I think that stands out is that even in our special
education classrooms, it’s incredibly rigorous. Matt: There’s a greater
content-rich focus connected to what’s happening in the
mainstream classrooms which that is very unique. You have teachers across the
state that are really doing that in silos, but it’s not
a philosophical shift across all districts. Where I can say,
“In our district, that’s a
philosophical practice.” Christina: Kimberly is a
fifth grader who is also in Robin Berger’s special
education class due to an intellectual disability. Today, Kimberly is proudly
sporting her purple and yellow Mighty Rams
cheerleading gear. Kimberly: We do dancing and
we dance and do cheer dance and we go to different
schools to play the games. Robin: Kimberly is like
a typical fifth grader, you know, she’s
a cheerleader, she loves, she has
friends all over campus. Kimberly: There’s nothing
that they can’t be part of. There’s nothing
that they can’t do. Um, I think Kimberly
is a perfect example, you know? She’s, she’s a cheerleader
here because she has the right to be. Leo: All of our kids
can try out for anything. We have a no-cut
policy for athletics, meaning; basketball,
football, those things. So if our SDC kids
want to try out, they can. I think it’s going to be a
good lifelong lesson for all kids. You know it works both ways. I think both of them are
learning from each other. But I think our
general education students, they’ll be able
to not be afraid. They’ll know how to interact
with students with special needs. Kimberly: Our students with
learning differences benefit from that access and those
real life peer friends just as much as our students
who may not have learning difficulties benefit from
understanding that those who learn differently from us
or present different from us, are just kids. They’re just
friends to be had. And friends to be made. Christina: What’s happening
in Sanger is a goal for other districts
throughout the state, as outlined in a 2015 report
by California’s Statewide Task Force in
Special Education. The report found that too
many disabled students in the state are not acquiring
the skills they need to live independently. Only 60 percent
graduate high school. One challenge, is that it
costs an average of $22,000 to educate a special
needs student per year more than double the cost of
a general education student. The task force recommends
a coherent system of education, where disabled
students are considered general education
students first. Matt: I always say it’s, it
was a philosophical change when people, they
want a program for that, like, “What’s the
program you used?” I can honestly say there’s not a
program for that. It really is an intense
conversation that is built on, you know, transparent
communication and trust and respect. And we worked hard and
work on it every day. teacher: Now we’re going
to the nearest hundredth. So 507. Now do I care
about the hundreths? Yes! Christina: For students like
Tej, Sanger’s approach to special ed means he
can celebrate academic accomplishments
just like his peers. Robin: In math, he can
pretty much do it all on his own. Miss Divine has sent back
his test that he’s taken in her class, and he’s gotten
100% where it hasn’t been modified. It may have taken
him a little longer, but he was able to complete
all the math problems on his own, he was able to write
the answers on his own, and he was so excited. Kimberly: I see them bloom. I see their skill set bloom,
I see their confidence bloom, the belief in
themselves. Leo: It gives us a sense
of knowing that people are different from us;
and that it’s okay. Kimberly: I want them to
have the same options and opportunities that any
student graduating from high school has. And that is, you know, what
is your dream? And how do we get you there? That home, school, work
I want them to have access to that. And meaningful
employment. And be part of their
community in the way that any other young adult is. ♪♪ Annc: To better prepare
disabled students for life after high school, some
schools are offering job training classes
and internships. Students learn how to write
cover letters and resumes, and are matched with
internships for jobs such as food preparation, managing
medical supplies and teaching sign language.

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