My name is Patty Mazzoni; I am the Early Childhood Manager for Salt Lake CAP Head Start in Salt Lake City, Utah, where I manage early childhood services for 150 staff and 2,000 children and families. I also do consulting for the Achievement Products catalog for children with Special Needs. For the past seventeen years I have worked with children with Special Needs. I remember my first experience teaching in a Head Start classroom in 1992. I had a very diverse population including children with disabilities. I had never heard the term “inclusion” prior to that year of teaching. I learned a lot that first year. I began to understand all children have unique personalities, abilities, likes, and dislikes. My interest in continuing to work with children with special needs grew. Within a year I returned to school to complete a Masters in Early Childhood Special Education.
Soon after receiving my degree I became the Special Needs Administrator for Head Start in our area. Our philosophy was and still is to support inclusion. Teachers were trained to include a child with special needs in the full range of classroom activities. For some it required a change in their way of looking at each child as an individual, not at the child’s disability. They felt a child with special need should be placed in a “special” classroom, away from typically developing peers. It became difficult for a few teachers when planning activities to take in to consideration each child’s diverse needs, strengths and interests so that all children could participate at some level. Training and ongoing support was essential, along with patience, understanding and acceptance.
As the program grew and I became the Early Childhood Manager, I never gave up my passion to include all children. Teachers now embrace children of all abilities. They work on individual goals. They understand that some children with special needs may require unique adaptations, special equipment, or therapy depending on the need of the child. Others may not. Teachers are very thoughtful when adapting materials, they know how to choose appropriate materials, and they understand the importance when planning activities. They share stories, offer suggestions, and provide understanding for those that may struggle. Many of them mentor others giving guidance and support. We have been successful in our long journey, and I am very proud of our achievements.
I believe that inclusion can benefit all children. Careful planning, individualizing, collaboration and a classroom that is developmentally appropriate create an environment where all can participate. Does your classroom or school have the same experience with inclusion? I would love to exchange ideas or solutions that work for you.