CRCS is an inclusive environment where all educators share the responsibility of accepting and supporting all learners. Learner variability is acknowledged, valued, and supported and there is an expectation for all students to do their individual best. Students benefit from support to become aware of the ways in which they learn, understand, and advocate for their needs, feel empowered to make choices, and develop independence. Our success in maintaining this inclusive environment has built our reputation as a school where students with varied needs thrive; we continue to meet or exceed our district in the enrollment of students with varied needs, exceed our district and the city in the retention of students with varied needs, and exceed our district, the city, and the state in ELA and math proficiency for students with varied needs.
Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT)
Since our school’s founding, we have implemented an integrated co-teaching (ICT) structure. This approach is one of the most effective strategies we use to serve a variety of learners. To allow for maximum flexibility in supporting students with and without disabilities in the general education classroom, all classrooms at CRCS have an ICT model. In this arrangement, one teacher certified in special education and one general education teacher share responsibility for assessing, planning, implementing lessons, and engaging in a reflective process to meet the needs of the students in their classroom. Two full-time teachers in the classroom allow for a variety of approaches to delivering instruction based on the lesson and student needs. Recently, we have refined our ICT model by introducing an emphasis on planning and instruction using the principles of Universal Design for Learning, described below.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles designed to guide learning environments that are accessible and effective for all learners. The principles were developed based on what brain science research has shown about the three main neural networks associated with learning. Learners differ in the ways that they perceive and comprehend information, the ways in which they can be engaged or motivated to learn, and ways that they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know. To ensure that these varying learning styles are met within CRCS classrooms, teachers participate in professional development to learn how the principles of UDL can be paired with our Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) model to provide learning experiences that are designed to make learning accessible for all students.
The elementary Integrated Studies units are designed using the Bank Street College of Education method whereby students study themselves first, then explore increasingly outward: from self, to family, neighborhood, city, country, and world. Each unit integrates a combination of reading, writing, listening and speaking, art, music, math and/or science in a context that is rich and meaningful. The Integrated Studies curriculum is a key method in which CRCS upholds our mission, because the emphasis on social studies provides an entry-point to spur connections between self, school and the world.
In addition to the Integrated Studies units, students receive direct instruction in content areas. CRCS has always utilized a method of instruction for all content areas that encourages student talk, close reading of authentic texts, and small group activities.
Support Provider Team
CRCS has Support Provider Teams for both the elementary and middle school. Led by the Director of Student Support in the elementary school and the Middle School Special Education Coordinator in middle school, the teams include the Learning Specialists, Reading Specialist, Math Specialist, Social Workers, and other related services providers (e.g., occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech and language therapist).
CRCS has three Learning Specialists in elementary school and a Math Learning Specialist and Reading Learning Specialist in the middle school. This allows each grade team to have a designated learning specialist. Learning Specialists collaborate with classroom teachers to develop and support implementation of interventions, accommodations, and modifications that maximize academic, social, emotional, and behavioral learning and development. Together with each classroom teacher team, they reflect on students’ reading and writing profiles and help design differentiated whole-group, small-group and individual instruction. Learning Specialists and faculty work together to initiate intervention plans for students not meeting academic benchmarks. In addition each Co-Director meets with co-teaching teams every other week to discuss student progress. In the elementary school, at one of these meetings each month a Social Worker joins to focus on social emotional development and wellbeing.
The Director of Student Support coordinates with the support provider team at CRCS and the Committee on Special Education (CSE) team. This work includes creating and reinforcing opportunities for collaboration and communication so that students receive uninterrupted services, evaluations, and updated Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) when they need them. This includes monitoring student goals, services and accommodations to keep them current.
CRCS also uses outside providers for occupational therapy, physical therapy, hearing education and audiological services, and speech and language therapy. These services are offered on site for students who require this support to fully access the school environment and curriculum and take place in group or individual sessions depending on which will best support the student in reaching their goals.
Child Study Team / Kid Talk
CRCS uses the Child Study Team (referred to as “Kid Talk” at the CRCS Middle School) to design and implement a plan to address students’ individual needs and those students deemed at risk of not meeting standards. The team is used to help teachers assess, adapt, and modify their teaching and curriculum to meet the needs of the children in their classroom on a case-by-case basis. The make-up of the CST/Kid Talk teams varies based on the individual student that is recommended to a team and the staff members that have the necessary experience and expertise to provide a full, top-quality review. Members of CST/Kid Talk consist of, but are not limited to, the Director of Student Support, Middle School Special Education Coordinator, related service providers, and grade level teams. Kid Talk meetings are held on a monthly basis as part of weekly meetings with grade level teams. CST meetings are scheduled at the elementary school, as needed based on teacher/learning specialist rereferral related to concerns about an individual student’s performance and response to instruction and intervention.The purpose of these meetings is to support staff in identifying interventions and accommodations that will better support the learning needs of the students in their class.
Our social work team—consisting of two Social Workers at the elementary school and a Social Worker and Director of Social Work and Community Programs at the middle school—supports the social, behavioral, and emotional growth of students. Social workers provide individual and small group counseling, crisis intervention, family support, and facilitate groups that address specific social and emotional topics. Counseling services are available to help enhance problem solving and conflict resolution skills, build empathy, improve self-esteem, encourage the discussion of feelings and help students develop and strengthen appropriate social skills. Social workers collaborate with teachers in developing positive intervention strategies to increase academic success and foster healthy peer relationships. Social workers also work closely with families to problem solve home and school challenges and are available to meet with families regarding their child’s social and emotional development, explore and design positive behavioral interventions, and to connect families to community resources.
The Inclusive Practices Group
Professional development is another crucial element in creating a strong infrastructure for diversity and inclusion. The Inclusive Practices Group (IPG) was established in 2015 to support our school’s inclusive learning environment. This group, comprised of faculty members from within our school community, meets regularly to discuss the research on inclusive education, various educational theories, and ways to incorporate these ideas into our classrooms. IPG members commit to thinking creatively about how to support each individual student to the best of our ability. We do this by providing opportunities for staff, families, and students to collaborate and learn more about how to foster an inclusive environment.
We believe relationships and collaboration between all major stakeholders—families, staff, and students—contributes to the growth of all involved. Our work with families begins when they enroll at CRCS. Whether or not a child has an IEP or specific needs, we aim to get to know each individual child academically, socially, and emotionally. Our work with families is transparent and ongoing. If a child has existing support services, needs new services, or needs to discontinue special education services, we work to build bridges between the family, school, and CSE or other agencies that conduct evaluations, so that each child receives the appropriate services to meet their needs. CRCS works to provide families with the resources and support they need to make informed decisions while also developing understanding about each child so that we may better support them in feeling engaged and connected to the classroom and community.
Support for Multilingual Learners (MLLs)
CRCS believes that a structured English immersion program is the best approach to supporting Multilingual Learners (MLLs) to master the language. Our students of limited English proficiency receive the same academic content as those students who are native English speakers. All instruction is in English. However, the level of English used for instruction—both oral and written—is modified appropriately for each student who is an MLL. CRCS’ co-teaching structure allows for flexibility for small grouping and individualized instruction that supports students who are MLLs.
All teachers receive professional development on communicating with students designated as MLLs and in techniques for detecting whether a student has English language deficiencies. CRCS is prepared to address the needs of students who are struggling with the sheltered English immersion program by providing, if it is determined to be the best course of action, pull-out instruction and/or assignment to a certified aide, teacher or qualified consultant under contract who speaks that student’s non-English language. Learning Specialists deliver support to students when necessary, one-on-one and/or in small groups. Parents of students receiving this support are kept abreast of their child’s progress in English language acquisition, preferably in the language that the parents best understand.
CRCS is a safe environment where students can grow academically, socially, and emotionally. We work to maintain an inclusive learning environment that supports students’ social and emotional growth through several strategies: a focus on our core values, an anti-bias approach, and middle school crew. In addition, our Integrated Studies and Humanities units are designed to provide students with the skills and perspectives necessary to become fully engaged members of their communities.