"On another level, it's important for children to understand that we're all individuals," she adds. "Everyone learns at a different rate and has something special and important about them that should be respected. For future generations, inclusion is incredibly important. When these children are adults they'll be much more accepting of a diverse society than some older folks are."|
Jowonio hopes that by including children with disabilities at the preschool level, families will be better advocates for these children at the elementary and higher levels, Karmen says. "Hopefully there are staff members and families of typical children who better understand the diverse range of needs and how they can be addressed in a regular education setting."
Grimmer says the ENRICH team also works with typical children in each classroom, collaborating with the teachers. "They add enrichment to our program, and they've been a great resource for parents with questions about their child's development," she says. "The children don't have just one teacher, they have a whole team."
Making ENRICH staffers part of the classroom team that interacts with all the children is part of the inclusion mission, Karmen says. "We're models for the children in terms of giving them opportunities to interact with each other and working together to try to make a nice classroom experience for everyone."
Assistant teacher Annalisa Bergquist '00 listens as Katherine discusses a picture that interests her.
Preece says parents appreciate having the ENRICH program at Bernice Wright because it offers benefits not found in many preschool programs. "It's made both of my children a lot more sensitive to differences in people and accepting of them," she says. "They're learning sign language, for instance, and they love it."
Parents, administrators, and staff warmly welcomed the ENRICH team to Bernice Wright, notes Karmen. "It's been a very positive experience," she says. "It's a teaching program, so we've had the opportunity to work with the undergraduate students placed at Bernice Wright as teaching assistants. Part of our mission is to try to help educate both undergraduate and graduate students about children with special needs and ways to provide a warm and nurturing classroom environment for all children. I feel that philosophy is present in the forefront at Bernice Wright, that they really do accept children right where they are and try to facilitate learning by providing a rich environment."
The school's diversity extends to language as well: Because SU has so many international students, Bernice Wright serves a number of families for whom English is a second language. Foreign languages currently represented at the school include Arabic, Korean, Malay, and Chinese. Grimmer says the school gladly accommodates these children. "It brings such fullness and diversity to the school, making it a wonderful place to be," she says. "The children may not speak the same language, yet they're friends and they're communicating in other ways, or they're teaching each other vocabulary words from their native tongue."
Karmen says other preschool and day care centers she has seen throughout Onondaga County do not compare to Bernice Wright. "I'm sure it's partly because it is a teaching facility, so there is an emphasis on understanding children and child development, but the quality of the curriculum and the richness of the program is really head and shoulders above most of what we see in other places," she says. "Bernice Wright as a laboratory school has offered a lot to the community and to Syracuse University."
The school has been successful, Grimmer believes, because it evolved to meet new demands as it grew. "We're still in the process of doing that and looking at what would make our program better," she says. "That's the advantage of working in a university settingwe are fortunate to have the most recent research and knowledge of the field of early childhood education."
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