A new pre-school program to help non-typically developing children will be opening this September at Ticonderoga Elementary School. An identical program will be opening shortly after at the Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School.
Both programs will feature an “integrated classroom,” according to Margi Carter, the executive director of the program, Children’s Development Group for Speech, Occupational, and Physical Therapy PLLC. This means that in a classroom of 12 students, from ages 3 to 5, six students will have been those identified as having special needs. The other six will not have these needs.
“The typically developing children are role models for children with special needs,” Carter said.
The teachers will also challenge the kids without special needs at their own level. For instance, while engaged in the same activity, the typically developing children might be requested to spell their whole name, while those with special needs might only be asked to identify the letter it begins with.
This doesn’t create an inferiority complex among those students who need added help, Carter said, adding that a stranger walking into the class wouldn’t be able to distinguish what student belonged to what group, except in the case of those with physical impairments.
“That’s the wonderful thing about the children; they don’t see the disabilities,”? she said. “At that level, nobody is making fun of each other.”
It is expected that integrated classrooms help students learn to be more tolerant of and more compassionate towards others’ differences.
A typical student with special needs, if there is one, who will participate in the program, might have trouble with social interaction, Carter said. The student might have trouble recognizing numbers, letters, colors, or shapes.
“They’re behind their peers,” she said.
Most of those who have added needs suffer delays in more than one area, such as in both their social and cognitive skills. The program would also service those students with autism, cerebral palsy, and down syndrome.
The program is important, the executive director said, because in the past, students with a higher level of needs were forced to travel long distances to be accommodated. Students from Ticonderoga, for instance, were forced to commute to Queensbury.
The program’s teaching philosophy is based around the idea that both learning and being a child need to fun, according to Carter.
“Children learn without knowing that they’re learning,” Carter said. “I’m not going to sit down and say you need to write your name 15 times. But I might say when you come into the room, don’t forget to sign your name so we know you’re here.”
That way, for instance, children at least attempt to write their name on a daily basis. The program will try to cater to the interests of the kids, and “teach them within that interest,” she said.
Typically developed children will be able to stay from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Those with special needs are scheduled to stay from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
All teachers in this program will be certified in special education and early childhood education.