The Space Coast Early Intervention Center (SCEIC) in Brevard County brings together two trends in early education: the increasing popularity of preschools as a foundation for lifelong academic and social skills; and an inclusion model that puts children with and without special needs in the same classrooms. The inclusion model is a highly successful one, says Executive Director Terri Clark: "The inclusion model is a wonderful way to educate and care for our children. The children with disabilities need to interact with typically developing peers so they can model the behavior. The typically developing children learn leadership skills, empathy and caring from helping their peers."
A classroom with children of diverse abilities focuses education on individual children, Clark explains: "Differentiated learning is necessary in this environment, thereby offering lessons to meet the individual needs of all learners. It allows us to center the education around the student's needs and not the needs of the school. Research has shown that the inclusion model is very effective for both populations of students."
The Center offers full and part-time preschool programs for children from ages 13 months up to 5 years. The proportion in each classroom is around 50% of children who are typically developing role models and 50% of children with a developmental delay. There are also after-school programs for kids 5 to 10 years old, and the Learn and Play Summer day camp with a focus on group activities and creative skills.
The center uses the HighScope Preschool Curriculum, with eight content areas: language, literacy and communication, social and emotional development, physical development and health, mathematics, science and technology, social studies, and the creative arts including art, sculpture, theatre and music.
For the youngest ones, starting at 13 months, the World Explorers program was intended to be a socialization program and an introduction to preschool. It was initially offered only two days a week for three hours. But once they discovered the program and its wonderful teachers, parents demand more and, says Clark "most of the parents have moved their children to 5 days a week. This is especially important as parents need assurance when leaving their young ones for the first time." She adds that it can be specially difficult to leave a child who has a disability of some sort.
Another popular program is the parents night out, to provide a respite for parents of children with disabilities. The low cost program, offered on two Saturday evenings each month, gives parents a needed night out. The kids have a good time too, with movies, play, and snacks.
Parent comments and thanks attest to the success of the SCEIC's inclusion model of early childhood education:
"Love the inclusive environment for children, the interaction between students and staff, and teacher ratios!"
"So grateful to all the wonderful people that take care of my son! We are so happy with the progress he is making. Thank you for the nurturing learning environment you provide."