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Re-Inventing Classrooms: Inclusion’s Role in Academics

Classrooms have changed drastically since most parents attended school. Technology has made us more connected and automated. New careers are being created just as quickly as skillsets become obsolete in a rapidly evolving society. How can elementary education best prepare children for a world that is constantly reinventing itself? What do educators need to teach students so that they grow to be successful adults? For us that meant not only educating but cultivating an appreciation for learning.

UCP Charter School’s vision is to create a fully inclusive learning community. We value academic results as much as we value the process of learning. Mainstream instruction models don’t always work for every child, because every child learns and retains differently. Some students are gifted and accelerated, some students are bright but need more time or strategic intervention, some students have disabilities, some students are artists, engineers, shy, empathetic, outgoing, and we strive to engage all learners through an inclusive model that focuses on the potential of each individual child. But how does Inclusion fit into the larger academic narrative?

UCP’s first venture into academic inclusion was bold, as we challenged the use of special education classrooms by raising the expectations drastically and beginning with a philosophical belief that all kids deserve a high-quality accessible education. Studies show that instruction in an inclusive classroom (commonly 50% kids with disabilities and 50% kids without disabilities) was mutually beneficial to both sets of students. The interpersonal benefits seem obvious, it destigmatizes preconceptions about disabilities, and cultivates compassion, but the model also has the potential to destigmatize preconceptions about learning. When you place learning in an inclusive setting it’s no longer solitary, boring, or stressful, it becomes communal.

The community-based experience for our families is unique in central Florida as our schools are very small in comparison to traditional schools. By placing instruction in a community setting, it can become part of every child’s complete school experience, instead of a task. It mirrors the real-world where knowledge and innovation happen through engaging in the world, collaborating with our colleagues, and leaning into things we don’t know. Learning takes on a whole new power when a child realizes their knowledge can be shared with others, when a gifted child is able to teach a peer they begin to cultivate a more well-rounded connection to their instruction, when a child without a disability and their colleague in a wheelchair prepare for a book report they are efficient, collaborative, and begin to learn at a level of maturity that is not passive, but immersive, and practical.

All of our students make learning gains each year that are celebrated, but more importantly all of our students learn that one day they can work with peers regardless of race, religion, disability or non-disabled status. At our campuses learning and socializing are not mutually exclusive, they are how the greatest ideas and most permanent lessons are discovered.

Our inclusion model became our compass, we began to not only integrate our classrooms, but our instruction models as well. We integrated technology, art, and project-based learning with the traditional common core curriculum. We integrated individualized instruction with collaborative spaces. We created a culture where learning can happen anywhere, and anyone can learn.

Our faculty, staff, and team at UCP Charter Schools exceed staffing instructional support ratios in classrooms and with training that goes above and beyond a traditional school setting. They are committed to rigorous instruction, and passionate about empowering students in their learning.

Students in our schools want to come to school because learning is fun, and the atmosphere is optimistic, challenging, and supportive every day. In addition to passion, the culture in our schools is truly attached to a philosophical belief that students can and will achieve great things when given great opportunities. The access and daily interactions that are created to support the learning environment for all our students creates a superior education option in central Florida. Our consortium of schools works tirelessly to raise not only the achievement bar for our students academically, but also socially through living the practice of inclusive learning.






This article originally appeared in Orlando Family Magazine’s July 2019 issue.