For the last 5 years I have been fortunate to work in a school with an integrated special education program which is affectionately known to our community as Options. The Options program is a small community within our high school designed for students with mild-to-moderate developmental disabilities. This program truly is the heart of our school and our college preparatory students look forward to the opportunity to volunteer as peer-tutors, which is an elective offered within their schedule for the semester. These peer-tutors are trained to support their Options classmates in their classes, especially their inclusion classes which could include theology, art, drama, music and PE. Each student has their own individualized plan, which does allow some to take other general education courses depending on their skill level.
As a first year teacher, having no experience with special needs students in my non-university affiliated student teaching internship, I have to admit I was nervous to have my first Options student in class. I wasn’t sure what all I would have to do to support her and didn’t want to do her a disservice by expecting too much or too little of her. After meeting her and her peer-tutor, I realized I had nothing to worry about. She came to class with such enthusiasm and curiosity, and everyone in class accepted her with open arms. I learned so much from her that semester as did the rest of the class. After that year, I found myself disappointed when I did not have an Options student on my roster, but have been lucky over the years to have more in class, in my mentor group and work as a retreat leader for the senior class retreat. Each student and each endeavor we embarked on together has proven to me that inclusion is the only way for schools to operate. Especially in private schools, where the expense to run the program is costly and often times deemed impossible to offer. For 32 years my employer, a private school, has made it work and it is worth the effort.