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Arkansas wants to lead nation in inclusive education

Arkansas wants to lead the nation in inclusive education by creating collaborations between teachers from the core subjects to special education.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas has been working to lead the nation in a student-focused, inclusive education. The idea of an 'inclusive education' means that all children are together in the same classrooms, in the same schools. 

The work that teachers and administrators have been doing is being recognized by other states. Eight new schools were selected for the inclusive practices project for the upcoming school year.

Administrators said schools who were involved in the inclusive practices project this past year, not only grew academically, but they also grew culturally.

"That will forever change those teachers and the kids. That's just infinity, you know, it just keeps going on," Jennifer Almond said. 

Jennifer Almond, Assistant Principal at Caldwell Elementary said her staff brought her to tears at the end of the year, by seeing the impact that they made as a team.

"The growth we saw from these kids that have the most intensive needs, the number of kids at that level when we started this year to where we ended this year, was phenomenal. It was just like, it just took our breaths," she said.

About 45 students in first grade were in that 'intensive needs' category in reading when the year began and that dropped down to 20 students when school wrapped up. Almond said the program touches each kid, no matter where they stand academically.

"That piece was really important to me as an administrator, not just here and right now, but ongoing and impacting so many more kids," she said.

Matt Sewell, Director of Special Programs at the Department of Education, said this project is about creating collaborations between teachers, from core subjects to special education. All while they integrate the classes and work to meet students where they stand academically.

"Educating kids, as we know, is a monumental task and the more support that you have from a team of people, the greater possibilities you have for outcomes for kids," he said.

Sewell has seen those great outcomes in schools since the program began in 2020 and he knows the impact it could have on Arkansas, as a whole.

"This is a huge shift in mindset in the way that we do school for our state, and I think that that once it is fully embraced, we'll see some real changes for outcomes for kids," he said.

Almond plans to take what she learned with this program during the past year, to Cutter Morning Star in Garland County, where she will be the principal this upcoming school year. 

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