Cape plans to expand educational program

Monday, May 12, 2008
AARON EISENHAUER ~ Kris Cartwright, left, and Donna Bedwell worked one-on-one with two students during a seventh grade composition class Thursday at Central Junior High in Cape Girardeau.

Next year, more Cape Girardeau students with disabilities will be placed in traditional classrooms, under the expansion of a pilot program aimed at "mainstreaming."

Students who previously were educated in a "self-contained" classroom have been attending class with traditional students this year in certain classes at Central Junior High and Central High School.

Two teachers run the class — one general education teacher and one special education teacher — but ideally, they say, their roles are so intertwined students do not know who is who.

The model, known as CWC, for class within a class, has been in place for years at several surrounding districts, including Jackson. But it is just gaining momentum in Cape Girardeau.

"The idea behind CWC is that students with disabilities are being exposed to grade level work. They are getting the same grade level lecture and material, but the special educator can make accommodations and modifications based on the child's IEP [Individual Education Program]. And the regular teacher has an extra adult in the room," said Central Junior High principal Roy Merideth.

At the junior high, seven classes have used the CWC model this year, primarily in the seventh grade. Next year, it will be expanded to encompass the eighth grade. The program at the high school will also be expanded, from one teacher teaching one section to one teacher teaching six sections.

Merideth said the program blurs the lines between who is publicly identified as having a disability, saying children are "very self-conscious at this age."

AARON EISENHAUER ~ Kris Cartwright and Donna Bedwell teach a seventh grade composition class on Thursday, May 8, 2008 at the Cape Junior High School. The Class within a Class program places two teachers in a classroom to work with special needs students, keeping them with their peers and not singling them out.

But opponents worry the special education students slow down the rest of the class or that the special education students do not get the tailored, small-environment instruction some require.

"An early fear by parents of students with normal performance was that their children would receive a lesser or watered-down education as compared to their peers who were not in the CWC model," Dr. Nora Swenson wrote in a 2000 report studying the effects of CWC instruction. However, "quite the contrary has been proven," she writes.

She cites an unpublished doctoral dissertation by K.E. Southwick from the University of Kansas that studied Missouri students' performance on state tests. Southwick found that "students served in the CWC model consistently produced higher achievement scores on MMAT tests than grade level peers who had not been exposed to the CWC academic interventions."

Federal law, through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, requires students with disabilities be educated in the "least restrictive environment" possible.

In Donna Bedwell's seventh-grade composition class at Central Junior High, teaching duties are shared with special education teacher Kris Cartwright. Their class contains about 21 students, although it reached a high of 29 at one point. A cap of six or seven special needs students is placed on CWC classes, but some classes have exceeded that, teachers said.

On Wednesday, Bedwell began class with a review of homework and an outline for the period. Cartwright interjected with additional comments, writing notes on the board as Bedwell talked. As students worked independently on persuasive essays, the two teachers individually met with students for a writer's workshop.

"I think it's easier because more than one student can be helped at a time. You get a better watch on what students are doing," student Heather Volkerding said. She said both teachers "pretty much do the same thing," and she goes to either for help.

Bedwell said all students generally receive the same assignment; later, students with disabilities are graded on a different scale or receive extra time. "While certain students are working on a five-paragraph essay, my students are working on a five-sentence paragraph," Cartwright said.

Cartwright also is a CWC teacher in a science classroom and a social studies classroom, which can create a slew of difficulties: becoming familiar with content and curriculum, scheduling times to meet with three separate teachers and meshing personalities.

In Jackson, where the high school has had a CWC program in place for a decade, the program has evolved to CWC teachers finding specialties.

"The biggest thing we have learned is to get teachers in a content area so they can gain that expertise," said Dr. Beth Emmendorfer, director of special services for Jackson. Teachers also meet over the summer to plan curriculum activities together.

The biggest challenge in Cape Girardeau, according to Merideth, is "making sure everyone is working in tandem and getting teachers over the fear of someone else being in their room. Teachers are very territorial sometimes," he said.

Some students with disabilities, used to being in a smaller, less-inclusive environment, struggled with adjusting to the CWC environment. "Some took to it really well. Others struggled. They really profited and benefited from a self-contained class. In December we evaluated and adjusted," Cartwright said.

A self-contained classroom and a resource room, where students get additional help with an assignment or test as needed, still exist.

"For special needs kids, its another opportunity to be integrated. Our goal is to integrate as much as we possibly can," said Dr. Mike Cowan, principal of Central High School.

335-6611, extension 123

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