Redefining Special Education with Partnerships, Robots and Google Hangouts

“Inclusion” is defined as the practice of educating all children in the same classroom, including children with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities. IDEA (or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) mandates that special education students receive a free and appropriate education from the ages of 3 to 21, depending upon the state interpretation of the policy. In 1975, IDEA mandated that special education students be placed in their least restrictive environment. But that’s difficult to do with limited resources and budgets.

That is, until digital technology swept into schools.

Disabilities like blindness and serious health impairments affect less than 1% of the population in most schools. Because of the rarity of these needs, these students benefit from attending a specialized school like The A. Harry Moore Laboratory School of New Jersey City University. Thanks to an innovative program designed by the New Jersey Department of Education, the students of A. Harry Moore have recently been able to share some 21st century digital inclusion experiences with their non-disabled peers–and in turn, together learn what true inclusion looks like in the classroom.

The Plan

The A. Harry Moore Laboratory School (AHM) is a historic school that has provided quality programs for special education students in Hudson, Essex, and Bergen Counties starting in 1931, over four decades prior to the IDEA legislation. AHM students have low-incidence disabilities, which include low vision, deafness, significant developmental delays, serious physical impairments and autism.

AHM was selected this past spring to be a part of a program called innovateNJ through the New Jersey Department of Education, based upon outstanding use of technology in their unique school environment. Director of School Innovation Takecia Saylor made the strategic decision to pair up AHM and Toms River, the largest suburban district in the State of NJ. The goal: collaborate, and learn from one another.

Their digital collaboration has been a unique celebration of the strengths and talents of students in both educational settings, as well as a creative example of providing an inclusive learning experience with technology. Toms River and AHM administration and faculty completed site visits in early June, and during this time, they planned a series of collaborative events with one another based upon the strengths and talents of each group. In all discussions, several big themes arose: professional development, special education, and robots.

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