JJ Pace is a young man who currently attends Tecumseh East STEAM Center.
JJ is learner who happens to receive special education services, and while at Tecumseh Middle School, he spent most of his day in the Cognitively Impaired Classroom. JJ would "go out" for Encore classes and attend both science and social studies in the "regular ed" classrooms. While in these classes, JJ would keep to himself unless he was working with an adult instructional assistant, or maybe another learner from the C.I. classroom. In group or laboratory settings JJ would merely be a presence and would provide little to no interaction with the group outside of his instructional assistant. At lunch JJ and one of his C.I. classroom classmates would come to the lunchroom and sit at their own isolated corner of a table, and eat their lunch quietly while the other learners went about their day paying little or no attention to these young men, their classmates, sitting alone at this table.
This has all changed this year. The environment at Tecumseh East STEAM Center is that of full immersion, meaning that there is no longer a C.I. classroom. JJ's homeroom is now in a mentor classroom like each and every other learner in the building, as well as are all his academic courses as needed. This is possible by providing curriculum in a way that is customized to fit JJ's needs. Here is one example, JJ receives the majority of his math curriculum through a program called MobyMax which adjusts according to his individualized pace and level. JJ can do this in a pullout format with an instructional assistant, which he prefers the majority of the time, but he can also learn math in a classroom with his peers. JJ never had the opportunity to take a math class with his peers at TMS.
Another opportunity that is provided at East is a much wider variety of what was formerly known as "electives." If you were a non-instrumental music learner at TMS you had four choices in electives. The learners were oftentimes forced into courses because they "fit." JJ would have been a learner that would have likely taken a course, maybe even two hours in a row, because it was "all he could do." This year the flexible schedule has allowed a wide variety of shorter courses have provided an opportunity for learners to experience a larger variety of topics. Through this JJ has shown that he loves to create things with his hands. The makerspace courses have become a place where he can showcase his talents. You can see JJ presenting some of his makerspace creations to his classmates. These talents have been recognized by his peers which have allowed them to understand he really isn't "different" at all.
While the academic piece is important, the social interactions have quite simply changed JJ's as a person. In three years at TMS I never heard him say anything other than, "Hi," when someone else said it first. The number of conversations and social interactions that have been observed this year are too numerous to count. An example of this is one way we connected JJ's math goals with a group of learners' passion projects. A group of young ladies created a school store through their passion project. One idea they had was to have a traveling snack cart during afternoon mentor time. JJ has a math goal in his IEP of learning how to count money and make change. This was obviously a natural fit. Before the snack cart goes out, you can now hear one of the ladies working with JJ asking questions such as, "How much does this cost?" "How much money do we have here?" "How much change do we need if they buy this item, and give us this much money?" They talk and work through the problems together, and the positive interactions and feedback are the genuine learning opportunities we want for each and every learner.
The changes in the way that TPS has customized JJ's learning have changed this young man's life for the better. He is now a young man who, while he may not necessarily seek them out, is no longer crippled and intimidated by interactions with his peers. There is a new found confidence and calm that have not been witnessed before. Seeing JJ's growth is a daily reminder of why this transition was so necessary. He has been able to experience learning in a way that has been built for him, and more importantly has provided him a way to connect with his peers. The best part is, these experiences are being crafted every day, in every building, for every learner. The process is hard, and it will certainly take time, but it so worth it.