SPARTA, NJ – The students in Courtney Hyland’s Life Skills classroom participated in a unique writing experience before Christmas.  Students in Amber Mauriello’s grade 11 College Prep level English class worked with the Life Skills students to work on writing skills. 

There were 24 CP English students working with seven of Hyland’s students.  They started with a lesson writing or drawing their hair.  After that they wrote about their birthdays, created a poem using their names and culminated by writing a letter to Santa. 

The big man in the red suit even visited the class for an exciting end to the program.

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Four teachers got together to make this happen.  Hyland, and Renee Dalia have collaborated in an 11 grade English inclusion experience in the past.  This is the first time college prep teacher Amber Mauriello, got involved as well.

Dalia, in her work towards earning a Master’s Degree in Learning Disabilities is impressed by the benefits of inclusion; combining students with disabilities and students without in one classroom to share the learning experience. 

She points out, while modifications have to be made to the curriculum to make it accessible to the students with disabilities, “that does not mean the other students are not challenged in the process.”

In order for students to be able to teach a concept, they must have reached “a higher level of understanding. The benefits of this process include creating friendships, developing social skills, peers acting as role models, higher staff collaboration and a respect for all people.”

The students in Muriello’s class were engaged in an informational reading and expository writing unit.  From the curriculum, she explains, the students were reading The "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass."  One of the themes stemming from the text is the idea of “education leading to freedom and possibilities,” Muriello said. “They discussed and analyzed the function of an education and how …ideals and systems are implemented.”

In addition, the students analyzed Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk “The Educational Paradigm” and other relevant resources in a variety of formats.  These concepts led to the small group explorations of the different educational systems, with students rotating through roles as  teacher, coach and observer.  After a discussion of the successes and failures, the students took their lessons to the Life Skills class. 

“It was their job to decide when there should be moments of clarification, what should be taken out, and what follow-up activity should occur,” Muriello said. “Many of the follow-up activities allowed the inclusion students to learn, practice and refine their literacy skills through poetry, letter writing, and discussion.”

The experience left an impression on the students who participated. 

Tori Flynn said, “I thought the Inclusion Experience was fun. I got to interact and meet with the kids in Ms.Hyland's class. I was able to realize that just because they might have a disability or might be labeled as ‘different’ doesn't mean they truly are.”

“This experience was rewarding way for both mentors and students to get to know one another and learn different things throughout the experience,” Kate Nash said.

“It was a lot of fun,” Thomas Blake said. “I learned how to teach and keep someone interested in a topic.”

Nina DiCesare said, “I thought it was such a good idea to give the kids a chance to talk to their peers and meet new people. This experience was enjoyable for everyone and I hope we get the chance to do it again in the future.”

“While Courtney, Renee, and I were discussing activities and some of our goals for the unit, this idea organically developed, and somewhat snowballed into this activity between the classes,” Muriello said. “Seeing this idea not only come to fruition, but to see the leadership, compassion, and patience on behalf of all the students involved was inspiring.”