Building Inclusive Schools In Poor Urban and Rural Communities

 Michael Peterson, Professor
Wayne State University
Detroit, Michigan

Kim Beloin, Assistant Professor
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Points
Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Fall, 1998.





 with contributions by:

Alan Arnold
Elementary Principal
Gilman Elementary School
Gilman, Wisconsin

Aremetta Rodgers
Special Education Department Head
Western International High School
Detroit Public Schools
Detroit, Michigan

Carol Anne Beaman
Disability Services and Mental Health Coordinator
Head Start
Detroit Public Schools
Detroit, Michigan

How do poor rural and urban schools build a successful inclusive school community when they have insufficient resources and are located in impoverished communities? Dr. Rich Gibson, recently met with a group of students and teachers at Detroit City High School, an alternative school. In talking with the students, he discovered that most believed that they would likely not live beyond the age of twenty. Many of the teachers shared that they would not want to be alive with these kids as adults. Shockingly, both teachers and students harbor images of death as their preferable option (Gibson, 1996). Rather than walk away, how can inclusive educators embrace such a challenge?

One of the greatest problems in poor communities is the frequent loss of a positive vision of the future. It seems that the media, university research, and government agencies conspire to paint negative pictures of neighborhoods and schools while ignoring the powerful capacities that exist within each. In such situations, families, community members, teachers, and children themselves all too frequently develop these self-destructive images of their own lives and their communities (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993; McKnight, 1995; McLaughlin, Irby, & Langman, 1994; Melaville, & Blank, 1993). How do we respond to this loss of hope?

Many schools, across urban and rural settings, are constrained by very limited resources (fiscal, personnel, etc.) and high levels of poverty. Such conditions of economic injustice create barriers that make it especially challenging to build successful inclusive schools and communities. Jonathon Kozol, in his book Savage Inequalities (1991), presented clear pictures regarding the tremendous inequities that exist in schools within our urban cities, bringing to life the statistical realities of budgets and test scores. Similar inequities exist in rural areas as well. Thus, effective inclusive community builders must focus on: (1) addressing issues of inequity at the building level, and (2) developing methods of effectively using existing resources. Both elements are critical for children in poor schools and communities. How do we simultaneously address the issues of inequity and develop methods of effectively using existing resources in order to build inclusive schools and communities?

Responding to these questions is critical if inclusive education is not yet to be another discussion about the middle and upper classes that subverts the very concept of "inclusion." Not untypical of other educational and community reform movements, it is clear that inclusive education is largely a white, middle-class phenomenon where segregation of students by class, race, and ability is much more likely on both ends of the socio-economic spectrum ­ rich and poor. Inclusive education must go beyond a framework that is limited by disability and build inclusive schools for ALL students. Those who embrace inclusive education must stretch themselves to understand and deal with the dynamics of exclusion based on issues of poverty, neglect, and social injustices of all kinds.

However, such a task will not be easy. The fact is that the largest recipients of inclusive educational practices are white and middle-class. Leaders in the inclusive education movement are largely European Americans working largely in white middle-class schools. In recognition of this fact, the U.S. Department of Education (1997) funded a National Center for Urban Inclusion in the fall of 1997. We cannot simply replicate the overall social pattern of exclusion based on race and socio-economic status that have become so predominant in recent years. Yet, that is indeed what has happened, however unintentionally. Thus, it is time to broaden our concern, impact, and commitment to building inclusive communities in poor rural and urban schools.

Towards this end, we attempt to raise awareness and call inclusive education advocates to action by: (1) articulating a vision of inclusive schooling for poor schools; (2) providing examples of several poor urban and rural schools who are in the process of implementing their vision; (3) identifying the multiple barriers that often impede their vision; (4) developing strategies for overcoming the barriers and achieving the vision; (5) articulating the commonalities and differences between poor rural and urban schools; and (6) describing strategies for embracing the challenge to create more inclusive school communities in poor rural and urban areas.

Whole Schooling: A Vision for Rural and Urban Schools

Change grows from a vision of the future. Where there is no vision, there is no change. Consequently, it is vital that inclusive community builders in poor rural and urban schools work together to craft their vision of who they want to be as a community and the type of society in which they choose to live. Envisioning and building better urban and rural schools and communities is not about experts creating solutions, although experts can provide technical skills, support, and information. Rather, it is about creating mechanisms for engaging school personnel and community members in creating alternative, positive future visions for themselves (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993).

In poor urban and rural schools, we posit a vision of inclusion and academic excellence for children. Thus, we have developed a visionary framework called "whole schooling" (refer to Table 1) that seeks to merge best practices in educational excellence with inclusive education practices (Peterson, M. & Beloin, K., 1997). The "whole schooling" framework has emerged out of our work, analysis, experience, and belief that "inclusive education for students with exceptional educational needs does not contradict nor is it in tension with the best practices in education; rather, best educational practices and inclusive education are complementary, reinforcing, and strengthening to one another."

Whole Schooling: Core Principles & Strategies

Learning together places inclusive education for all learners with special needs at the center of school reform that includes detracking separate classes for all types of learners from students with severe disabilities to students who are bilingual (Fitzgerald, Garrett, Glodoski, Knox, & Pelzek, 1996; Healey, 1997; Maeroff, 1993; Oakes, 1985).

Teaching well involves designing instruction for diverse learners using active learning approaches (Gay, 1988) such as multiple intelligences, active learning, project based learning, thematic instruction, and brain-based learning (Caine & Caine, 1991).

Support focuses on building support and community for students and teachers. It includes the realignment of special education, bilingual, Title 1, and gifted personnel to engage in collaborative teaching with regular education teachers. Focus intentional efforts on building community among students, teachers, and administration in the neighborhood school (Felner, Aber, Primavera, & Cauce, 1985; Wang & Gordon, 1994; Wehlage, Rutter, Smith, Lesko, & Fernandez, 1989).

Adapting involves developing accommodations for students with special needs using a range of strategies.

Partnering focuses on engaging in genuine collaboration & partnerships with families and the community in order to strengthen both the school and community (Center for the Future of Children, 1992; Dryfoos, 1994; McLaughlin, Irby, & Langman, 1994; Melaville, & Blank, 1993).

The uniqueness of the "whole schooling" vision and framework is that it combines the work of school reform coalitions in poor areas that have focused on: becoming a citizen in a democracy, teaching well, support and partnerships (including the Comer model of school development, Accelerated Schools, Coalition of Essential Schools, and Success for All) with inclusive education reform that has focused on learning together, supports, adaptations, and partnerships. In a study conducted by The National Center for Education Restructuring and Inclusion (NCERI), several key components of successful inclusive education programs were identified, including the need for supports for students, collaborative relationships, and effective family involvement (Lipsky & Gartner, 1994). Increasingly, reformers in both arenas are recognizing their areas of commonality. In 1996 and 1997, conferences were held in New Hampshire and in Denver that drew together representatives of overall school reform and inclusive education.

While inclusive education and the implementation of best educational practices are essential for all schools, both are particularly critical in poor urban and rural schools. We turn now to the descriptions two low- income communities who are in the process of implementing their vision for creating a whole inclusive school.

Detroit: An Urban Experience in Working Towards Inclusive Education

Like many large, urban school districts, the Detroit Public Schools are just beginning to move towards inclusive education. Detroit's beginning efforts are instructive regarding the barriers, challenges, and strategies for change in a large, complex system. Detroit is the 9th largest city in the United States with a population slightly over 1 million people. The metropolitan area has been described as the most ethnically and socio-economically diverse and segregated city in the country. This places efforts towards inclusive education for students with disabilities in a challenging context. Overall, in 1994, Detroit Public Schools had 175,239 students of which approximately 17,000 were students with disabilities (Detroit Public Schools, 1996). Some 11,000 of these students with special needs (approximately 64%) received special education services in self-contained settings. The vast majority of students with moderate to severe disabilities are placed in separate special schools. These include students who experience deafness, moderate mental retardation, and severe disabilities. Some students with moderate or severe disabilities attend separate classrooms in regular schools, but such placements are the exception. Students with mild disabilities are typically educated in special education classrooms within regular schools.
Over the last five years the "central office" has taken steps to provide recognition of inclusive education. However, the most clear evidences of change are coming from the grassroots efforts of educators in local buildings who are developing connections and relationships with university faculty. The 1994 Strategic Plan (Detroit Public Schools, 1994) for district level special education services identified expansion of "inclusionary options" as one key component of improving the quality of educational services. The prime strategy toward this end has been the development of increased numbers of "resource rooms" throughout the district. More recently, the central office has directed a system-wide effort to align the special education curriculum with the general education curriculum. As an increasing number of parents are becoming aware of inclusive education as an option for their children, they are requesting inclusive placements and support services in IEP's. Hearings on this issue are dramatically increasing. Administrative leadership towards inclusive education in Detroit has occurred in a complex political environment in which the fourth school superintendent in 8 years resigned under duress in the fall of 1997 and a major reorganization of the system is in process that is intended to substantially decentralize decision-making. Given the enormous changes that inclusive education implies, special education administration has proceeded cautiously.

Beginning building-based change

In some buildings throughout the district there is some evidence that teachers and principals are becoming more aware of and interested in exploring inclusive education. These include: Head Start, Bellevue Elementary School; and Western International High School.

Since 1972 Head Start in Detroit Public Schools has included a range of children with disabilities with training and support for teachers from the Disabilities Services staff. For several years, Disability Services and Mental Health Coordinator, Carol Beaman and her colleagues have been quietly including students with disabilities in Head Start programs. This has not come easily and there have been many challenges. Working in a system where segregation is the norm, she has provided training, technical assistance, and consultation with teachers to help them develop skills and strategies for including children with disabilities. Fortunately, she has had strong support from administration in the early childhood program.

The impact in Head Start programs has been significant and has established a foundation upon which additional inclusion in early childhood programs and elementary schools may naturally build. Of the 1938 children enrolled in Detroit Public Schools Head Start program in the 1997-98 school year, 205 children were enrolled with diagnosed disabilities, slightly over the federally mandated 10% of enrollment. These children are included in regular Head Start classes with services from special education. However, approximately 70% of these children are eligible for Speech and Language Services only. Currently collaborative efforts are being developed with Head Start teachers and special education teachers in specific buildings in the District to develop a more inclusive environment for children who require more intensive support and services. At present, many 3 year-old children with more severe disabilities leave the district's Early Intervention Diagnostic Center and move into separate special education classes or classrooms. Collaborative efforts are being developed with the local university to assist and support the expansion of efforts to move these children into a more least restrictive environment.

Bellevue Elementary School is located on Detroit's Eastside in an impoverished area of the city. The school principal and a committee of the school's improvement team, in collaboration with faculty at Wayne State University, have committed to developing Bellevue Elementary as a "model elementary inclusive education" program for the district. It has taken many years to lay the foundation for building an effective, student and a family-centered school in this very low-income area. Bellevue Elementary School has engaged in many innovations that include: the use of inquiry approaches to school improvement based on the Accelerated Schools model, innovations in curriculum and student supports, and building connections with local services supporting parents and families. The school has a multi-racial staff and has set goals for teachers centering their teaching and work on the needs of children with exceptional educational needs. The plan for building an inclusive school is building on this foundation and will proceed over the next three years.

Western International High School

At the high school level, special education services are largely delivered in pull out resources rooms or, more frequently, in separate special education classrooms. Western International High School, however, has made a commitment to building a multi-cultural model of inclusive education in one of the cities poorest and most culturally diverse areas. Over time, the department head of special education, has built support among the administrative team for a school-wide vision for inclusive education that includes the following elements:

o elimination of special education as it is currently

o involvement of students and parents in the life of the whole school

o excitement on the part of the whole school, people pushing to move faster

o connection of the school to the life of the community

o recognition of the school at the national level as a model of multicultural, inclusive education

Western International High School is located on the Southwest side of Detroit in what is called Mexican Town. The school population includes a very heterogeneous racial and ethnic mix of both students and staff. The school is located in an area that includes many people with low incomes and struggles with the typical problems of urban youth including low student academic achievement. At Western International High School, 18 out of 40 total teachers are presently "regular education" teachers. Twenty-two are special teachers of various sorts. This provides both a challenge and an opportunity. If all of the students with exceptional educational needs were included, with supports from existing teachers in pull-out classrooms, the overall student-teacher ratio could be reduced by one-third. In a school district with an average of 35 students in a class, such a move has potential to make major impacts. On the other hand, to do so requires a major shift in how teachers and schools conceive education and support for students with special needs.

The special education department head and her colleagues have been learning and building a base of support for changing from a pull-out model of special education services to inclusive education. She developed the vision based on the conviction that special education, as it presently exists, does not work. She and her staff have discussed this and this past summer developed the plan for Inclusion 2000 for Western International High School.

This department head has worked for over 8 years to build support among special education staff, develop allies with the principal, teachers, counselor, and others, and gradually reduce the isolation of the special education programs and the students they serve. This has involved several changes. In order to prepare the staff of Western International High School for inclusion, she felt it was necessary for the Special Education Department to stop being all things to the students with special learning needs. One of the first things that they did was to change the name to the Exceptional Education Department. This name change was designed to help reduce the stigma that had been associated with the term "special education." Another thing of great importance was the letting go of the exclusive responsibility for students with exceptional educational needs and involving the Counseling and Guidance Department in advising. The Counseling Department became responsible for the academic program of the child with exceptional needs. Each child was assigned a counselor, as were all other students, and the counselor provided each child with the same benefits as the general education student. The special teacher became an advisor to the counselor and when necessary reviewed and approved the program. The special education teachers then became part of the "mainstream" accepting the same responsibilities as the regular education teachers. The special teachers stopped being all things to the students with special needs.

School discipline was another area that had to be addressed. It took tremendous effort to have the members of the administrative team use the Student Code of Conduct for students with exceptional needs, without involving the Exceptional Education Department Head. It seemed as if they were afraid of making a mistake or damaging the child. In addition, it was necessary for the Exceptional Education Department Head to take an active role in maintaining order in the school, in general, the lunch room, the halls, as well as disciplining general education students. The Exceptional Education Department had to cease being an entity unto itself. It became apparent that the department, the staff and students were a part of the school and were expected to follow the same rules as everyone else.

According to Exceptional Education Department Head, "Once the regular education staff accepted the fact that the exceptional learner could and was expected to function in an age-appropriate, socially acceptable manner, BUT MOST OF ALL THAT WE WERE NOT GOING AWAY, it was full steam ahead." The student with exceptional needs could be found in every school function and most classrooms. During this time the Exceptional Education Department Head frequently addressed the staff. She would tell them of changes in special education, the law and affect that it would have upon them. The staff was free to ask questions during the presentation and they were welcome to come to her office. As required, the special teachers gave completed "mainstream forms" to regular education teachers and were available to assist them whenever necessary. Over a period of time the general education teachers stopped needing or asking for help. Prior to addressing the staff as a whole, the department head would brief her staff making certain that they understood any and all changes. By doing this, each member of the Exceptional Education Department became a resource person as well as an advocate for the department and the students.
Despite these gains, the Exceptional Education Department still relied on separate special education classes which special education staff increasingly see as being less than effective. According to the exceptional education department head, "I know we have had one of the best programs in the city. And we have failed these students. We must change special education as we know it because it does not work."

With this conviction she gained information about inclusion, talked with her colleagues who increasingly were supportive, and looked for, and found, assistance outside the school district. She has been successful in obtaining the assistance of faculty from two local universities -- Wayne State University and the University of Detroit. The University of Detroit is engaged in an Eisenhower funded inservice grant for "inclusionary and interdisciplinary education" with math and science teachers that involves on-site training and technical assistance. Wayne State University is collaborating in supporting overall planning and training for the realignment of exceptional education staff and for developing new options for supporting students with disabilities as they make the transition from school to work.
Building a vision has been important in this process. Over the years the exceptional education department staff have worked to gradually develop a new vision of possibilities. Recently, the exceptional education department head was supported in developing a PATH (Planning alternative Tomorrow's with Hope) for her school moving towards a vision of "multicultural inclusive education." In the fall of 1997, special education staff together developed a vision and beginning action plan for moving towards inclusive education using the MAPS process (Making Action Plans). Finally, a planning committee has been convened following a presentation to the entire school staff. This committee is composed of school and university staff and members of the community. These efforts have been serving to engage all in the school in the change process.

Western High School is poised for a major change for the education of students with disabilities. A team to plan for realignment of exceptional education staff and training and support of teachers has been formed. This school is moving towards a vision of multi-cultural inclusive education and whole schooling and they expect such efforts will provide help to students and even raise standardized test scores for all students.

Northern Wisconsin: A Rural School Experience

In northern Wisconsin, rural schools also must address issues of poverty, race, and availability of resources. Some school districts in northern Wisconsin experience a higher poverty level than urban districts (poverty being measured by the number of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch programs). Racial tension is also another factor that is common in both rural and urban schools in Wisconsin. Although there are few African-Americans who live in the rural regions of Wisconsin, there is a significant population of American Indians, (due to the large number of reservations in northern Wisconsin) and Asian-Americans who have settled in central and northern Wisconsin. There is tremendous prejudice and lack of acceptance of racial and cultural differences by those who are European American and have lived in the north for generations.

In addition, the lack of resources available to children with disabilities and their families who reside in rural Wisconsin is shocking. Public transportation is nonexistent, health care is poor or unavailable, and employment opportunities are nonexistent, if one is not interested or able to farm, truck, or work in the logging industry.

Despite these barriers, the small size and personal connection of people in rural Wisconsin induce potential to facilitate important innovations for effective inclusive education. One school district, who experiences a high level of poverty and has developed vital supports for quality inclusive education, is Gilman Elementary School. Gilman WI, a small, rural community of 500 citizens, is located in Northern Wisconsin on the edge of the Chequamegon National Forest. Gilman has one elementary school and a combined middle-high school which are all located in the same school structure. Gilman is like many rural school districts in northern Wisconsin, in which the entire school system, including district administrative offices are located under one roof. The community at large is predominantly a farming community, requiring that many students (with and without disabilities) ride buses a significant distance in order to attend school. The vast distances between students' homes and the lack of transportation options really limits after school involvement and makes school and community life in rural Wisconsin an isolating experience for these children and their families.

The beginning of inclusive education at Gilman Elementary emerged approximately four years ago, when the elementary principal, began a principal's math challenge class. The elementary principal and a group of talented math students needed a space in the building for their class. Due to an extreme lack of physical space, the only space potentially available for the math challenge class was the special education resource room. As the children entered the room on the first day, they were reticent, didn't want to sit in the desks, and would not touch anything in the classroom. The school principal was shocked by their actions and attitudes, and the many parent phone calls of concerns regarding the fact that these students were learning in a "special education classroom." The principal immediately felt the need to take action. He said, "If this is how general education students felt about a "special education classroom", how did they feel about their classmates with "exceptional educational needs?" Thus, the principal and a few teachers began developing a school vision, philosophy, and school-wide plan in which all students could have their unique needs met within the general education classroom.

At Gilman Elementary, inclusion is "the practice of delivering instruction to all students in a manner that meets their individual needs and gives them the opportunity to develop to their full potential, academically and socially, by utilizing the team teaching of general and special teachers, using diverse teaching strategies for diverse learning styles, individualizing instruction, and using flexible grouping" (A. Arnold, 1995). As a result of their school-wide vision and philosophy, Gilman Elementary re-aligned the teaching staff and created a school-wide block schedule as two specific strategies for achieving sustaining success with their inclusive education goals. These two strategies (i.e., re-alignment of staff and block scheduling) had a tremendous impact on student learning without requiring any additional fiscal or personnel resources. More importantly, changes in the school-wide schedule and re-alignment of teaching staff were made in order to better meet the needs of struggling students and to provide greater acceptance of all students in a small, rural inclusive school environment.

The Gilman staff created an inclusive school program by developing and implementing five key program features. First, the staff looked at ALL available teaching staff currently working at Gilman Elementary and designed a staff structure where one "specialist" is assigned to each grade-level team as a support to all students with exceptional education needs at that specific grade level. The "specialists" came from the positions of: Title 1 teacher, gifted coordinator/reading specialist, guidance counselor, speech/language therapist, and one special education teacher (with cross-categorical experience). These specialists are committed to team-teaching with their grade-level team members everyday for a minimum of one-half day.

The second program feature focused on each team member (two general educator and one specialist) having equal responsibility for EVERY student (with and without disabilities) at their grade level. In essence, these three teachers were all individually and collectively responsible for approximately 50-60 students. Furthermore, the grade-level teaching team was as responsible for the success of their students with exceptional educational needs as they were for all typical grade-level students. The specialist's role was not to function as a teaching assistant rather every teacher's instructional time was used mainly in direct delivery of instruction to students.

Third, the teaching staff also redesigned the school-wide schedule in order to create a block of "sacred time" during which there were absolutely no interruptions. With a few very rare exceptions, this block of sacred time was adhered to every day of the year. During sacred time, the grade level has 100% of their students for 100% of the time. No music art, physical education, or computer classes are scheduled during this time. No student is pulled out for speech therapy, remedial reading, counseling, or any other special individualized instruction. Sacred time is for grade-level teaching teams to go full speed ahead in teaching the core subject material without interruptions.

The fourth program feature focused on the creation of planning time for grade-level teaching teams and the team of specialists. Due to the creation of the block schedule, each grade-level team now had 90 minutes of planning time each week. This ninety-minute team planning block is in addition to the designated amount of preparation time each teacher was required to receive as specified in their teaching contract. In addition to the grade-level team planning time and the regular contracted preparation time, specialists had a planning block in which they met for sixty minutes each week to discuss specific student's needs, goals, and progress. The major purpose of the special teacher's meeting was to communicate with each other in order to check that the goals of each student's IEP were being met.

The final components of the Gilman Inclusive Education program were flexible instructional grouping and the utilization of instructional space. At Gilman Elementary, instructional groupings of students change frequently enough to eliminate the possibility of any stigma being associated with which group a student was/is in. Similarly, all students frequently work with each of the three teachers so that no stigma is associated with the special teachers either. The same is true of instructional space and room usage. There is nothing unusual about a student learning in any particular room or space since all students work in those rooms at one time or other. The three teachers even rotate and teach in each of the rooms (including the specialist's small room or office) so that the students will not associate a certain teacher with any specific room or space. Consequently, any student (with or without an exceptional educational need) works with any teacher, in any room, with any grouping of classmates, without the stigma of being "different."

In the early stages of development and implementation of the Gilman vision and strategies, the Gilman staff became connected with the Wisconsin School Inclusion Project, a state systems-wide change project. The elementary principal said, "We really didn't know what inclusive education was, we just wanted to do what was best for all kids when we came to understand that the mission and goals of the Wisconsin School Inclusion Project matched our vision of a good school at Gilman." Consequently, through the project, Gilman Elementary was quickly connected to additional resources and support at the university and state level. In turn, Gilman Elementary offered their assistance by accepting visitors from other schools and presenting the Gilman model at the state-wide Leadership Institute on Inclusive Education and the Conference on Inclusion in Rural Schools. Due to their vision, efforts, and connection to the university and state-wide agencies, many rural and urban schools in Wisconsin have learned specific strategies for creating their own inclusive education programs. Although Gilman Elementary continues to refine their inclusive education program with the support and assistance from university faculty, administration and community members, Gilman Elementary is one example of a small, poor, rural school community that took a risk, embraced change, and created a unique inclusive school community through the re-alignment of their existing resources.

Barriers and Resources in Poor Rural and Urban Schools and Communities

Many barriers and challenges exist in all communities, particularly in poor communities, when implementing a school-wide vision for effective inclusive education and whole schooling practices. Such barriers exist both in the school itself and the community of which the school is a part.

Barriers in Poor Urban and Rural Schools and Communities
1. Loss of hope
2. Limited fiscal resources & high levels of poverty
3. High levels of drug use, gang involvement, crime, and teen-age pregnancy
4. Poor health care
5. transportation
6. High levels of stress
7. Segregation -- SES, race

1. Many poorly qualified personnel
2. Inadequate learning environment
3. Limited community resources.
4. Negative attitudes towards "special students"
5. Much segregation - special education, alternative schools

An impoverished urban school classroom consists of many students without identified disabilities, who are not succeeding in school. Society continues to be plagued with drug abuse, gangs, teen-age pregnancy, crime, and deadly diseases (Shapiro, J.P., Loeb, P., & Bowermaster, D., 1993). Other social problems provide a framework that makes movement towards inclusive education and "whole schooling" practices very difficult. There are high degrees of segregation on the basis of, socio-economic status, race, and ability. Prisons, alternative schools, nursing homes, high-rise low-income housing units all abound in American cities. This sets a mental model of segregation. In addition, in many neighborhoods, people are afraid and have a sense of being overwhelmed by problems. In some neighborhoods, people feel unsafe due to crime and violence. The multiple problems that face neighborhoods (crime, violence, economic devastation) and schools (violence, hunger, abuse, class size, authoritarian and non-responsive administration) make inclusive education and whole schooling practices often seem like an unaffordable luxury. Ultimately, the school, media, universities, and people in poor neighborhoods themselves adopt a deficit mentality where they are conditioned to see only their problems and deficits, rather than strengths and resources within themselves, their schools, and their communities (Anyon, 1997; Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993).

Social problems also exist in impoverished rural schools and the small, isolated communities in which they are located. Lack of quality health care, post-secondary education opportunities, social services resources, and public transportation add tremendous stress and hardship for families, especially those with children experiencing disabilities, who desperately need those services. Unemployment also abounds for those who do not farm or are not employable in the trucking or logging industry. In addition, these impoverished, rural schools have a very difficult time attracting teachers and administrators who are willing to live in an isolated, impoverished, rural community. Finally, rural schools are not insulated from violence, abuse, deadly diseases and teenage pregnancy. Communities which experience high rates of unemployment, rely on limited natural resources as their only means for economic survival, and are isolated from extended family and neighbors, resort to violence and abuse when they can no longer cope with day to day life.

Within these impoverished rural and urban schools, autocratic and bureaucratic structures can make the efforts of local teachers and community members very difficult. Tension often exists between teachers and the school administration, and between the community and the school system. Difficulties also arise due to the tensions that exist between the unprepared teachers and the students. Teachers may be unprepared to teach students with a vast range of learning differences and thus students are sentenced to years of low expectations and failure (D'Alonzo, VanLeeuwen, & Giordano, 1997). Teachers may exhibit negative attitudes toward teaching students with disabilities (Haberman, 1997). In addition, they may perceive the challenge and stress of educating an already diverse and "needy" population of general education students as difficult enough. To be asked or expected to accept further challenges in often resented (D'Alonzo, VanLeeuwen, & Giordano, 1997). In such a setting, all in the system may feel embattled and lacking supports on a daily basis. Taking on new challenges and engaging in risk can be very threatening in such an environment.

These barriers and other social problems provide a framework that makes movement toward inclusive education and "whole schooling" practices very difficult for poor rural and urban schools. However, such communities and schools have many valuable assets and resources that often go unrecognized. In many poor communities, numerous people have been working for many years to improve their community, people who have demonstrated commitment, skill, and perseverance. People with disabilities and their families, themselves, can enrich the community with their experiences, skills, and perseverance. The combined resources of schools, businesses, and community organizations represent assets that can provide a foundation for school and community development. By recognizing and building on such school and community assets, it is possible to utilize effective strategies and harness human potential to create a whole inclusive school community.

Strategies for Change: Overcoming Barriers and Achieving the Vision

How can some impoverished schools build a successful whole inclusive school community? In an interview conducted for NBC Dateline's story on inclusion in 1994, the principal of Boston's O'Hearn Elementary School stated that "You cannot just do inclusion. You have to be a good school first." Inclusive schooling is more important, not less, in poor communities. In inclusive schools, students with and without disabilities learn to work with one another, which is vital in any rural or urban community. As such, inclusive schools can encourage social responsibility among students and provide a small step toward eliminating prejudice in our society. Teaching acceptance and appreciation for diversity is an important skill for producing a more just community. Perhaps most critical, in poor schools, inclusion provides students with concrete opportunities to engage in issues of exclusion, injustice, support and caring that are at the center of student's developing a sense of hope for their own lives. Drawing on the educational and community change literature we provide these guiding principles for building inclusive education in poor schools and communities.

First and foremost, people must be willing to take risks to create a new vision for a better future. People who are willing to work in this proactive way must find and support one another throughout the process. This requires personal and professional support that focuses on developing organizational infrastructures to assist in implementing the vision.

Second, people seeking change for inclusive education in poor communities must focus on the "whole" by creating a better school and community for ALL children and their families, not simply children with disabilities. Consequently, it means we understand the whole at some level and how inclusive education fits into the total schema of things. The whole schooling framework (referring to Table 1) was developed to assist in this process.

Third, as we work in poor communities, we must build long-term relationships with colleagues, families, community leaders, and university-based faculty in order to gather support and ensure commitment for inclusive education. We must seek to organize methods of providing support to one another linking personal and organizational resources (e.g. within a school, teachers helping teachers, special education coordinators reaching out to their colleagues; schools linking to university faculty; schools connecting to leaders in the community). As we build resources, develop pilot efforts, change advocates will take some risks, sometimes challenging the system. However, this must be done carefully and with great thought.

Fourth, it is important to develop a mutual working relationship with university-based teacher education programs in order to effectively support educators and prepare future educators to embrace the challenges in poor schools and meet the unique needs of those within the school and community. If inclusive education and quality schooling are to be a reality in resource-poor schools, they require truly effective teachers who have the necessary skills, knowledge, values, and attitudes. Teachers are needed who have an understanding of the broader vision of community of which the school is a part; are connected to the community; participate in community activities; are willing and interested in visiting student's homes when needed; have commitments to children in poor areas and see in them, their families and their neighborhoods assets, not just deficiencies. Schools in poor areas need teachers who can look at a poor community and recognize the new paint on the old house or the mural painted by a local high school student on the side of a local bar, as signs of life and vibrancy. Schools in poor communities need teachers who can communicate with families living in poverty, (especially when they feel intimidated by the school) and help them feel comfortable, welcomed, and valued as contributing partners in the education and development of their children.

How do we do this? Martin Haberman (1997) states that 2/3 of the success of preparing star urban teachers working in poor areas is not preparation at all, but selection. Selecting people to enter non-traditional teacher training programs who are from the area, are older, have experience and a commitment to the areas in which they will work are the key elements to success. Beyond this he also suggests that experience in such settings with support from faculty and local people is critical. University faculty interested in poor schools must connect with one another in order to work together in building partnerships and supportive learning communities. Together they can take the resources of university faculty and students in training into poor rural and urban schools, providing them with direction, support, and guidance in the process.

Finally, we must also realize that schools are a part of the larger community and are highly influenced by conditions in the larger community. Thus, we must work to link education, economic development and human services in a holistic manner. Throughout the country there is a growing movement of "community building" that recognizes the interdependence of all sectors in rebuilding the health of impoverished areas. As Anyon (1997) indicates, "without such efforts to rebuild the entire community, where schools link their resources to community development efforts and where such efforts enrich the school, reforms of any type run a strong risk of failure." What are some specific strategies and resources that can be effectively utilized to overcome the multiple barriers and move us closer to building these inclusive school environments? Several ideas emerge as common strategies that are reasonable to implement and successful for long-lasting change .

Strategies for Overcoming Barriers


Commonalities and Differences between Poor Rural and Urban Schools

The rural and urban school examples described earlier paint pictures of what is possible when we join together to formulate a positive vision, develop and implement strategies for overcoming multiple barriers, effectively utilize existing resources for the benefit of the whole school and the community at large, and harness our human potential to create lasting change. Given these examples, it is evident that both commonalities and differences exist between poor rural and urban schools as they engage in the process of building whole inclusive schools .




As can be seen, the commonalities that exist due to poverty are more prevalent than the differences between rural and urban schools. Thus, our belief that poor schools (across rural and urban settings) can learn and benefit from each other's inclusionary efforts is confirmed. The common ground that exists between poor rural and urban schools parallels the very notion of inclusion ­ that students with and without exceptional educational needs support each other as they learn together and from each other. Children across race, gender, disability, and culture (including the "culture of poverty") have more in common than not in common. It is vital that our efforts to build whole inclusive school communities in poor rural and urban schools capitalize on the strengths of staff, available resources, and support of the larger community, just as inclusive educators strive to focus on the strengths, interests, learning styles, and abilities of students with learning difficulties; rather than focusing on the barriers within schools or the limitations within students experiencing disabilities within those schools.

Poor rural and urban schools can also learn much from their differences. For example, given the impoverished conditions in which all these schools must effectively function, the uniqueness of a small rural school district (all within one building) allows for greater speed at which change can occur. Less layers of administration can hasten the decision making and implementation processes. Conversely, given the same conditions of poverty, a large urban district is slowed down and many times halted in the decision and implementation processes. Can poor urban schools consult with rural school districts to develop processes for hastening the decision-making processes? It is vital that we look at our commonalities and uniqueness in order to effectively respond to the gifts and needs of the students and teaching staff, in particular, and the neighborhoods and communities, at large.

The Challenge to Create Inclusive Schools in Poor Communities

What can and should be done in more communities and states to strengthen and support efforts in poor rural and urban schools like Gilman Elementary and Western International High School? Where might we start? Here are some suggestions to consider.

We believe that:

1. Educators, university personnel, and advocates for children with differences (across race, culture, or disability) must come together to form alliances to build quality, whole, inclusive schools.

2. Forums for dialogue at the local, state, and national levels are critically needed in order to join forces with those who are concerned with quality urban and rural schooling in impoverished areas

3. University personnel and/or school and community leaders must approach state departments to specifically target research, training, and technical assistance funds to support poor schools

4. Ongoing work is necessary in linking best educational practices with inclusive education. As a result we have developed the whole schooling framework (referring to Figure 1) and recently established the "Whole Schooling Consortium" as a grassroots collaboration among schools and universities who are interested in promoting and implementing the full range of whole schooling practices

5. We must develop ways to link positive school and community development. As the distribution of wealth is becoming more polarized, poor people are under increasing oppression. In this context, new "community building" approaches are being implemented in poor communities throughout the U.S. in which residents harness their own resources and build from capacity rather than deficit (Kretzmann, J. & McKnight, J., 1995). We must develop ways to link such school and community building efforts.

6. As poor rural and urban schools move toward whole inclusive schooling, it is important to collect documentation of the effective use of minimal resources, share those strategies and stories with others, encourage patience and risk-taking throughout the change process, and obtain university and community support.

In this article, we have attempted to raise awareness regarding several essential elements: (1) articulating a vision of whole inclusive schooling for poor schools, (2) providing examples of several poor schools who are in the process of implementing these strategies, (3) identifying the multiple barriers that often impede that vision, (4) developing strategies for overcoming the barriers and achieving the vision, (5) articulating the commonalities and differences between poor rural and urban schools, and (6) providing strategies for embracing the challenge to create more whole inclusive school communities in rural and urban areas. If we care about children in poor schools and communities, and maintain our focus that the children's needs must always come first, then collectively we must embrace the challenge and commit ourselves to students in all communities. Just as in marriage, we must commit, for better or worse, to building inclusive school communities.


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