I can see it now – the bold, black letters etched in stencil: Ms. Juve, A3. My first classroom door was heavy, painted a dark forest green and squeaky when opened. In those moments before I met my students on the first day of my first year of teaching, I imagined that door as a threshold over which my 15 students with mild to moderate disabilities would pass to gain access to a world of rich, rigorous, engaging academic content. It was through that door, I was convinced, that students would develop into masters of education, advocates for their learning and passionate lifelong learners.
For those of you who have taught, you may know that the first year doesn’t always go exactly according to plan. As a brand new teacher, I realized that I had a lot to learn. My students and their families were eager and enthusiastic, but many of them had been in a self-contained special education classroom since first grade or even kinder. In some of these classrooms, grade level content was not made accessible for students and therefore, our most fragile learners were even further behind. For them and their families, many doors to opportunity and educational equity were closing slowly.
For the majority of my first year, that heavy metal door with my name on it remained closed. If I could just contain my students, I could catch them up to grade level – right? I closed the door, followed the book and struggled to make it work. By the end of the year, I was seeing results but nowhere near what was needed to truly level the playing field for my students.
As with many teachers, I spent the summer reflecting. Yes, my students loved coming to class, but was it rigorous enough? Yes, families showed up to meetings, but was I giving them other opportunities to meaningfully engage in their students’ education? I vowed to start my second year with the door open, ready to both ask for help when needed, but also to advocate for my students in a way that would start to crack those doors of opportunity open again.
I spent the next two years knocking on teachers’ doors to ask for opportunities to have my students participate in general education classes and collaborate with their peers on projects. While the teachers at my site were open to these ideas, we kept running into barriers beyond our control – classes were too full; students were required to participate in the intervention curriculum even if we weren’t seeing results; my students were “just too far behind.” In many ways, I felt that these students’ educational trajectory was already determined by the time I saw them in fifth grade – they were SDC students, and would remain as such. I started to realize that if we wanted to open doors for students with disabilities in a way that would give them access to college and career readiness, we were going to need to seriously rethink our approach – and I couldn’t do it alone.
In my search for that new approach, I came across Rocketship Education. They were rethinking elementary school, especially in their approach to special education. With an approach deeply rooted in an inclusive model, they also believed in a community-based approach to educating all students – especially those with disabilities. I quickly learned that Rocketship parents were advocating for all students in a way that fundamentally shook up the framework of traditional public education by choosing Rocketship as their child’s trajectory rather than accepting a setting they found no longer worked for their student. At the school site level, teachers were committed to providing meaningful instruction for all students – but they didn’t do it alone. Teachers visited the homes of each of their students to begin creating a true village with the support of school leaders. Rocketship felt like a grassroots community bound by a common, singular focus: the well-being of all of our students.
During the last two years as a resource specialist at Rocketship Los Sueños, my classroom door was never closed. General education teachers, parents and school leaders flowed freely in and out in search of collaboration to improve their students’ learning experiences. All students – regardless of the severity of their disability – were given access to the general education curriculum in a meaningful way due to intentional and well-planned supports to ensure success. When students enrolled with needs more severe than our program could accommodate, our department didn’t send them to a different school. Instead, we collaborated with community resource providers, parents, leaders and teachers to develop a program that would give those students access to life skills and academic content in a way that would positively impact their educational career. Our community made, and continues to make, that happen. If this is where we are now – creating specialized inclusion programs, rethinking behavior supports, fostering a community that supports all learners – I can only imagine that impact that we will continue to have as we grow, innovate and cultivate best practices.
I am a Rocketeer because no one can do it alone. When you want to build something great, you have to build it together. And as it turns out, when you open your door to community collaboration, you can also open a whole lot of doors for all of our learners.
Logan came to Rocketship in 2013 after spending three years in a neighboring district in east San Jose. She learned about Rocketship’s inspired full inclusion model and knew within her first days as a Rocketeer that she was in the right place to influence change for all students. Logan is most inspired by her students who seem to inherently understand that learning can be messy and difficult, but who are willing to jump in headfirst anyway. Logan lives with her husband and her dog in sunny Santa Cruz and spends her extra time playing on the beaches or hiking underneath the redwood trees in her backyard.