When I was in San Antonio at the National Down Syndrome Congress annual convention this summer, the last workshop I attended was hosted by a group from Nashville (my hometown for nine years!). The presenters were a parent, a teacher, and a professor from Vanderbilt. They have created a program, called Heart to Heart, for kids with Down syndrome at a (pricey) private school, Franklin Road Academy, in Nashville.
The dad who spoke has a son with Down syndrome. He had two other children at this school and his middle son went to public school. When having a discussion with some other school board members, they kept referring to the "FRA family." After a while, this dad finally said something to the effect of, "This is not my family. Not when my son is not welcome here." This threw this school for a loop. Ultimately, they decided to put their money where their mouth was. They searched the country for a K-12 school that had a program for kids with Down syndrome (or any special need, I think) and they couldn't find one.
So they created one.
With some interesting characteristics.
1. Funding would come from outside the general budget (basically, so no parent could say they didn't want to fund a special ed program with their tuition payment).
2. The program would have no impact on the rigorous academics currently in place at the school.
3. The students in the program would not receive diplomas; rather, they would receive certificates of completion.
4. The program would be limited to a maximum of two students per grade, and only as funding permits.
5. The students in the program would pay tuition just like everyone else (roughly $15k/yr, if you're curious).
6. The program is only for students with Down syndrome (which was met with a bit of contention from a few parents who have a child with a different special need, such as autism, but the reason is that the teachers are able to research Down syndrome learning styles and fairly easily customize a learning program for each child).
This is not a full inclusion program. It's a mainstreaming program. What this means is that the students are pulled out for specific classes, such as math and reading. There is one teacher for two students. That teacher (I think) writes their exams for all their classes (if they need modifications) and teaches them during pull-outs.
(side note: I'm not a full-inclusion proponent, unless it is the best place for a specific child. It makes me crazy to hear parents talk full-inclusion for everyone. If the best place for Micah to learn math in sixth grade is in a resource room where he can catch up on areas in which he might have fallen behind, then that's where I want him to be.)
The best part of Heart to Heart is that the kids in the program are getting a great education and are truly a part of the school. When you watch the video below (it's about 5 minutes long), take note of the comments made by the parents of the typically-developing kids, as well as the teachers. Take note of the well-spoken 5th grade class president and how they chose the Buddy Walk for their service project. (if you are reading this blog posting in an email, you'll need to click here to see the video)
Side note: bullying at the school has decreased at the school since the Heart to Heart program began.
There are many parents of typically-developing kids who don't think our kids with Down syndrome (or other delays) belong in a regular school. This program, I believe, shows that the opposite is true.
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