Inclusion Takes Many Forms
By LORIEN ANDERSON
Peace Corps Response Georgia 2012
Peace Corps Paraguay 2007–2009
When I think of 'inclusion' in the US we often think of Individualized Education Programs (IEP) and teachers aides in the classroom. Some talk about 'mainstreaming' children with emotional, physical, and/or educational difficulties and are appalled at the thought of a child not having access to a good education.
Many of us know that inclusion takes a number of forms, especially in other countries. I have had the pleasure of serving as an Urban Youth Volunteer in Paraguay as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and as a School Social Worker in the Deaf Schools of The Republic of Georgia through Peace Corps Response. Knowing that so many children with disabilities go uneducated in Paraguay, I was intrigued to see what government funded boarding schools for children, who are often left undereducated, would look like. There are two schools for deaf and hard of hearing children in Georgia, one in the capital of Tbilisi, and the other in Kutaisi. While the schools only admit children with demonstrated hearing loss, they do not exclude children due to emotional, physical, or educational limitations/needs.
This means that teachers often find themselves with a classroom full of students with varying levels of skill and a variety of needs. While children often have IEPs, support for implementing them is lacking. Inclusion in these schools means that each teacher has to work a little bit harder to reach each child where he is, and their peers have to be a little more patient and willing to help each other. I found the students to be incredibly accepting of each other's differences and quite patient in class. Unfortunately, many students were left bored and disengaged while their teacher worked with individual students who needed more help.
After observing numerous of these classes and therapy sessions, I saw time and again that the one thing that every student responded to was learning through play. Working with the other PCRV in the school, we launched material making sessions, focusing on visual aids and interactive learning appropriate for multi-level classrooms. The teachers at first seemed skeptical, but quickly began overwhelming us with requests. Teachers sat in the teachers' lounge with us for hours, cutting, coloring, pasting, laughing and sharing stories about their lives; it was wonderful. Teachers gladly supported each other and gave suggestions for materials. I have never felt so appreciated for doing something that seemed so simple. I developed games to use in English class and walked the English teacher through each one. She fully embraced this extremely different teaching method and her students quickly became engaged and excited. It was such a joy to see these same students who had been so bored a week before fully engaged and participating. It was equally satisfying to see what caring teachers can do given the right materials and a little guidance.
The students responded so well that the Vice Deputies of Education and Caregivers asked for more games that could be used both during and after school. It turns out that a number of people were interested in teaching through play; they just didn't really know where to start. Together, we created learning games geared towards a wide range of levels focusing on fine motor skills, math skills, identifying and organizing, and problem solving. I created binders for the Vice Deputies with copies of each of the games so that they could be easily replicated in the future, and the three of us made a commitment to each other to share ideas for additional games with each other going forward.
Anyone who has been a volunteer knows that Peace Corps is largely about building relationships. It turns out the same is true for PC Response.
Last updated Jan 30 2014