Beginning last September, a team of twelve dedicated staff members from MSAD 15 in Gray – New Gloucester and Child Development Services in Cumberland County joined forces with the Maine Department of Education, Child Development Services (CDS), The University of Maine Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies (CCIDS) and Maine Roads to Quality Professional Development Network (MRTQ PDN) to learn ways to improve their current inclusion practices within their three public Pre-K classrooms. “We’re doing this for the kids, everything we do is with their best interest in mind,” one preschool teacher noted when asked why they originally signed up for this professional learning opportunity.
Team members included district administration, special education staff, classroom teachers and their education technicians as well as an itinerant special education teacher from Child Development Services (CDS) Reach. The initiative included a continuum of professional development strategies from knowledge and skill building through individual and group training to guided reflective practice and application opportunities. School district team members started by completing a self-paced on-line training entitled Inclusive Environments in Public Pre-K. Next, the whole team participated in a one-day kick-off event hosted at Educare Central Maine in Waterville. This orientation session provided participants with a chance to meet the trainer and consultants, learn more about the education and support components and discuss the key indicators of high- quality indoor and outdoor classroom environments covered during the on-line training. After the orientation session, team members participated in the MRTQ PDN 30-hour Creating Inclusive Early Childhood Settings on-line training while also receiving onsite consultation visits and participating in a Professional Learning Community (PLC) lead by two CCIDS consultants.
In January, all partners convened at the school to discuss the process, tour the classrooms and present their learning. External evaluators from Early Childhood Associates in Massachusetts conducted focus groups to gain more specific feedback about the professional learning and its impact. Participants noted:
“Working together with a specific early childhood focus strengthened our team and our work.”
“Having administrators involved was REALLY valuable!”
The teams were awarded $1,500 mini-grants for each pre-k classroom to enhance inclusivity. The funding came from a federally awarded Pre-K grant Maine received in 2019. The mini-grants were used to purchase sensory materials, equipment, furniture and other enhancements such as lighting, flooring and sinks! Comments from participants demonstrate the impact of the professional learning:
“I am internally motivated to attend IEP meetings and say, yes, Dunn School has everything we need to service your child.”
“My students seem happier, they’re excited, I feel comfortable meeting them where they’re at.”
“We didn’t know what we didn’t know!”
The Maine Department of Education in partnership with CDS, CCIDS and MRTQ PDN is considering ways to continue this project with other interested districts throughout Maine. As opportunities become available, notification will be provided to the field!