INNOVATION and COLLABORATION
The Co-op brings together charter school staff to share the innovative practices that allow them to provide high quality special education services to DC’s students. We asked Amita Lathigra, Director of Student Support at Co-op member school Creative Minds International (CMI), to share her thoughts on CMI’s unique approach to inclusive learning. Read Amita’s guest blog post below!
Unique Inclusive Practices at Creative Minds International Public Charter School (CMI)
CMI’s Inclusive Philosophy
CMI was built on the philosophy that all students, regardless of needs, can benefit from learning together. Our program was influenced by Dr. Stanley Greenspan’s work in understanding the separate systems in the brain that contribute to its overall function, and was developed with the understanding that real, authentic learning happens when every brain system is functioning optimally. Dr. Greenspan believed that meaningful relationships and emotional development were the driving forces behind our learning processes. This philosophy and approach to learning supports all students, and allows us to really focus on meeting all children where they are and helping them grow in a meaningful way.
Our classrooms are unique because our teachers are trained differently – they are trained to support students from a holistic perspective, keeping in mind their sensory and emotional needs. This allows teachers to focus on instruction in a way that recognizes that children are the sum of their parts, not just numbers or statistics that measure the proficiency of an academic program.
Understanding and Supporting the Sensory Needs of Young Children
CMI strives to create child-centered, flexible environments that best support authentic, deep learning. One key aspect of this is meeting students’ sensory needs. Sensory needs are those needs that involve the use of our senses to interact with our environment. Our senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing, movement, and vision can be over-stimulated or under-stimulated. Some of us may be bothered by tags on our clothing touching our skin, or the smell of coffee overwhelms us. By understanding these sensory needs, CMI staff are cognizant of the various sensitivities children might have that impact their ability to learn.
With the increase of academic rigor at all grade levels, and an intense push to have all students ready for the next grade, the amount of time children have to be children has been decreased. CMI has made it a priority to provide students with adequate play time to ensure all of their systems develop appropriately. We have two recesses per day for each grade level, and utilize a sensory room to provide movement breaks and sensory input to students who require movement to calm their bodies.
CMI’s philosophy is apparent in the related services we provide to students with disabilities. CMI Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Golnar Abedin wanted students to have access to the kind of therapy that meets children where they are developmentally and allows them to learn how to navigate the world in a play-based environment. To meet this need, Dr. Abedin invited Jake Greenspan, Dr. Greenspan’s son, to be on the founding board of CMI. Jake helps CMI implement the Greenspan Floortime Model for related services – a practice focused on providing therapy at the sensory and brain-system level to improve academic, social and emotional learning. This model incorporates specific questioning techniques that push children to learn how to plan and sequence their ideas and execute them in a fun way.
Making it All Work – Targeted and Ongoing Professional Development
CMI’s unique approach only works with targeted staff training and ongoing support. Before the school opened, Jake worked with teachers through professional development sessions and provided individual coaching sessions on the Greenspan Floortime Model with teachers and students, and parents and their children.
Our staff has also participated in training on sensory systems led by an occupational therapist. By learning to recognize the markers that show when children are under or over-stimulated, our teachers are better able to meet students’ sensory needs and adjust programming for individuals who need more, or less, input in particular sensory systems.
Over the years as CMI grew, we realized that our teachers needed and wanted more support in implementing these practices. We began monthly professional development sessions where teachers met with Jake and focused on the individual children in need of support. The conversations were robust and solution oriented. Within these focused conversations, teachers had opportunities to share ideas and increase their understanding of how to apply the techniques and principles with other children in their classrooms.