Today, we’re concluding our discussion of inclusion of kids with special education needs in this miniseries with Barb Newman and Elizabeth Dombrowski of CLC Network.
In Part One of the series, we discussed how CLC became involved in serving kids with disabilities in Christian schools in their home region of Western Michigan, and the obstacles they face in getting other Christian schools to pursue inclusion. Last Thursday, we explored the topic of how parents can advocate for an inclusive Christian education for their children with special education needs. Today, we’ll conclude with a look at the resources available for schools committed to pursuing inclusion of kids with disabilities.
C4EC: Speaking of resources, we hear you have a new book available to help Christian schools include kids with special education needs, What can you tell us about the book?
CLC Network: We have several books and resources for schools. The newest one is called Nuts and Bolts of Inclusive Education. This book is the most comprehensive as it walks schools through very specific steps to set up opportunities for children with higher levels of need. If a family comes to the school, and one of the children has Down syndrome, this book would be the guide to use. Beginning with the importance of preparation – who needs it and what to do, moving into planning for the child – with needed forms and supports, and then into the actual day to day components of the program – from report cards to training paraeducators, this book is filled with the practical ideas the schools will need. Each portion of this book is rooted in Biblical principles and invites people to experience this blessing of God called inclusive education. Previous books include an overview of inclusive education called “Any Questions”, ideas to support friendships called “Circle of Friends Manual”, and “The School Welcome Story” which is a tool one can use to write an informational story for a child before entering a new setting. These were all written by Barb.
C4EC: Let’s say we could persuade one of our local Christian schools to partner with CLC Network as consultants in an initiative to serve kids with special education needs. What’s the nature of the service your group can provide to churches outside of your home base in Western Michigan?
CLC Network: We recognize that volunteers are the key to any church-wide effort, so we provide easily-accessible training in book and DVD form. Our G.L.U.E. (Giving, Loving, Understanding, Encouraging) process provides an overarching way for you to think about inclusion in a church setting. We believe so strongly that churches need this encouragement, we are giving away the DVD and Training Manual—four hours of training—to any church interested in putting some oomph behind that “Welcome” sign on the door. Once a church community has made a commitment to persons with disabilities, there are lots of ways to come alongside that person and receive their witness. Our background in education helps churches overcome some of the biggest hurdles to inclusion – how to conduct inclusive Sunday School, youth group, and adult bible study. Depending on your church’s gifts and needs, resources from Friendship Ministries and Joni & Friends can also become important supports to sustain a purposeful inclusion program.
C4EC: One last question…with all of the funding challenges that the typical Christian school faces, why should Christian school administrators make inclusion of kids with learning differences a priority?
CLC Network: There are many reasons, so let me begin with the practical and then end with the spiritual. Practical…I was visiting a school because they did not have an inclusion program and the school felt they were no longer able to meet the needs of some of the children already enrolled. I was doing an observation as part of our intake process, and realized the number of enrollments they were losing. With siblings, 4 children would be leaving this school. For this school, that would have been tuition of about $6,000 per child per year. I asked the administrator if he would like to keep that $24,000 in his school or send it somewhere else. For that money, he chose to hire CLC Network as well as an on-site assistant whose day would be divided among the children needing support. There was even money left over. What schools don’t realize is that inclusion can increase enrollment as families enroll all of their children. When families leave, schools lose money. At the school where I work, we have about 50 children who have more significant needs. Each of these children has 1-3 siblings who are also part of our school. You do the math. Money aside, I believe the most important reason has to do with God’s intended community. I often ask a group of parents “when your children graduate from high school, what do you want them to have learned?” While the discussion often begins with math or reading or government, the conversation quickly turns to character qualities such responsibility, caring, respect, and more. One of the greatest benefits we see for inclusion is that it truly is a program for all. Every student enters into a community of care that allows teachers to highlight relationships and living with one another in ways they could never have achieved without a child like Isaac. Inclusion forms the habits and hearts of each child present. It’s little wonder, however, because as you read Scripture, God clearly shows us these types of communities where “the eye cannot say to the hand ‘I don’t need you’”. Each part is important to the whole. In some ways, excluding the child with the disability handicaps an entire student body.
CLC Network is a nonprofit educational consulting firm helping schools and churches support people at all levels of ability and disability. To contact CLC Network for a consultation, evaluation, or resources, call 616-245-8388 or visit www.clcnetwork.org.