This week, McMicken Heights Elementary in SeaTac hosted a visit from leaders of state education departments from 14 states. 

The visit was organized by the Council of Chief State School Officers, a nonpartisan national non-profit organization of public officials who lead K-12 education systems across the nation. 

The group of about 20 educators came to observe and learn how Highline has led the work of inclusive education. McMicken Heights is recognized as a model of inclusive classrooms by the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

In inclusive classrooms, students of all abilities and needs learn together in the same classroom. Students with special needs and disabilities are included with their peers as much of the school day as possible, rather than being segregated in separate special education classrooms. 

“We have found that when we pulled students from core instruction for special interventions, they were not making progress toward grade level standards,” said McMicken Heights Principal Alex Haas. 

Now, students with special needs are supported by special education teachers and paraeducators in the classroom, as needed. They may spend part of their day receiving special services outside the classroom, as outlined in their individualized education plans. 

Research shows that inclusion has a positive or neutral academic impact on students without disabilities and that all students benefit socially by interacting with students who have a range of abilities and needs.

As one McMicken second-grade student put it, “Just because [classmates] have a disability and they’re different, it doesn’t mean they can’t play with other people. [We can] still play…and have fun.”

Highline’s vision is to eliminate segregated programming and serve all students in their neighborhood schools, instead of busing them to schools with special programs. An increasing number of Highline schools are practicing inclusive education as the district phases in this approach across all schools. 

“The move to inclusive classrooms is driven by our Highline Promise to know every student by name, strength and need, and the goals of Highline’s strategic plan,” Chief Academic Officer Jenniffer Reinig said. “Inclusive classrooms reflect a culture of belonging where all students are welcome and an innovative approach that values multiple ways of learning and communicating. This is how we prepare students to live and work in a diverse community.”

Since 2007, The B-Town Blog is Burien’s multiple award-winning hyperlocal news/events website dedicated to independent journalism.

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