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A Child, A Family, A School, A Community

A Tale of Inclusive Education

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Diane Linder Berman and David J. Connor

This book is a true story of one family’s journey into inclusive education. Having previously been told that her son Benny had "failed to function" in two exclusionary special education classrooms in New York City, Berman’s family set off in search of a school where Benny would be accepted for who he was, while having the opportunity to grow and flourish academically, socially, and emotionally alongside his brother, Adam. Connor’s interest was piqued when Berman shared her desire to document the ways in which the new school community had supported Benny throughout the years. Together, they thought, surely other teachers, school and district level administrators, parents of children with and without disabilities, teacher educators, and student teachers, could learn from such a success story?

The result of their collaboration is this book in which Berman skillfully narrates episodes across time, describing ways in which children, teachers, educational assistants, parents, and a principal came to know Benny—developing numerous and often creative ways to include him in their classrooms, school, and community. Connor’s commentaries after each chapter link practice to theory, revealing ways in which much of what the school community seems to "do naturally" is, in fact, highly compatible with a Disability Studies in Education (DSE) approach to inclusive education. By illuminating multiple approaches that have worked to include Benny, the authors invite educators and families to envision further possibilities within their own contexts.

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Chapter 12. Grade 5 in the Penthouse

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· 12 ·

GRADE 5 IN THE PENTHOUSE

It is easy to conceptualize how inclusion works in an elementary school classroom, where the goals can so easily be modified. It is harder to understand how an upper level classroom can work. Grade 5 at Boulder gives us a window into this process due to it serving as a bridge year to middle school, when academics begin to take precedence over other activities in the classroom. Benny entered grade 5 still rather far below the level of his peers in math and reading. He tested roughly two years behind his age group. I wondered how he would be prepared for middle school, where I knew already, academics would not be modified for him. I was interested to learn from Tom, both as a parent with some anxiety, and an educator eager to share his secrets for success. I had heard that virtually all of his students went on to do well in the rigorous middle school that did not use ability tracking, offering a high level curriculum for all. Students in grade 8 take a program comparable to what an honors student takes at my own school. Tom presents with a remarkable sense of calm, a person who is hopeful and kind. His classroom never feels rushed or pressured despite the tremendous academic demands upon today’s fifth graders.

I asked him first how he manages to meet the disparate goals of all the...

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