An Inclusive Model for All Students | Part 2: Bryan’s Story

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by Genevieve Thomas & Caitlin Gallagher
Director of Integrated Special Education & School Psychologist

Last month, we discussed our Specialized Inclusion Program (SIP) as a piece to solving the puzzle of creating great schools for all learners. Over the last year, we have seen the supports put in place by the SIP program influence great academic and social change in students with severe learning needs.  One student we’ve both had the pleasure of getting to know through our SIP program is Bryan.

Bryan joined our special education program in Spring 2013, transferring from a special day classroom.  When a few members from Rocketship arrived at Bryan’s school for an observation prior to his transition to Rocketship that spring, every student was matched with a paraprofessional and access to grade level peers was limited to the other students in the self-contained classroom.

After arriving at Rocketship, the school team knew they would need to innovate and collaborate to meet his intense needs.  He had limited communication skills, a history of physical aggression and a number of other challenges that made accessing learning a challenge.  Bryan had mastered some rote memory tasks such as matching colors and sorting objects; however, he had not learned how to read, count, introduce himself, ask to use the restroom and many other self-help skills needed for independence.

Despite his differences, the school team at Rocketship knew that inclusion would be the key changing Bryan’s trajectory and facilitate the growth we knew he was capable of.

bryanFast-forward to now, a little over a school year later, with a lot of hard work and collaboration from his school team, Bryan is now 70% included in the general education setting.

He reads 22 words correct per minute, thanks to a reading intervention group targeted to his needs and a peer-facilitated daily reading group. His meltdowns to express frustration have decreased from one time per day to less than once a week, which has undeniably freed up access to learning time. He transitions appropriately with same grade peers between common spaces and after almost a year, is now participating in launch (what is launch? teachers, students, and parents gather to sing and dance, helping to instill core values in our Rocketeers and start the day off with joy and community). Its exciting to think about the doors that inclusion has opened for Bryan and we look forward to many more children experiencing the benefits inclusive practices have to offer to our most impacted students.

Based on Bryan’s success and that of others, we launched a third SIP site in the Bay Area for the 2014 – 2015 school year. We’re continuing to define meaningful inclusion for our teams, and are focusing on skill development for both our special and general educators participating in the program.  Finally, we are focused on bringing SIP resources to our schools in Milwaukee and Nashville.

The most important lesson that we have learned from our SIP program is that when a committed, dedicated team of educators puts their minds to it, successful inclusion is possible for all of our students – even our students with the most significant needs.   We’ve learned how important it is to our families that their students have access to the same general education environment as their non-disabled peers, and we’ve learned that, even when the academic content may be inaccessible for students, the benefits of the inclusion environment are staggering.

Next month, in the final piece of our SIP series, we’ll hear from a family about why the SIP program is the right choice for their child.

What are the opportunities and challenges of an inclusive approach to special education? We’d love to hear from you ➟ @RocketshipEd


Caitlin Gallagher is one of Rocketship’s talented School  Psychologists. She grew up in the East Bay and attended the University of the Pacific studying education before earning an  Ed.S in School Psychology. Caitlin is  inspired by holistic and inclusive learning for students and believes that these two factors together can create serious change in the lives of our students.  For fun, Caitlin enjoys traveling, the outdoors, and new experiences.

Genevieve Thomas has had various roles within special education over almost a decade before becoming Rocketship’s Director of Integrated Special Education. Genevieve has many passions, but when forced to choose, she is caught between finding new ways to be active in the outdoors, and finding ways to improve educational opportunities for students with disabilities.

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