Radford University special education faculty receive funding for building inclusive schools project

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STEL faculty members Liz Altieri (right), Karen Douglas and Darren Minarik have been awarded a grant from the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities to promote inclusive educational practice in Virginia.

Three Radford University School of Teacher Education and Leadership faculty members have been awarded a grant from the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities.

The grant from Virginia Board for People with Disabilities is the first major grant for the Inclusive Practices Center at Radford University. It will help the center promote inclusive educational practice in Virginia and ultimately enhance the school and community inclusion of children and youth with developmental disabilities in Virginia.

The $175,000 grant will assist STEL faculty members Liz Altieri, Karen Douglas and Darren Minarik on a project to increase the capacity of Western Virginia schools to sustain an inclusive academic, social, emotional and physical environment that serves students with disabilities.

The project, “Building Inclusive School Communities through Cultural Shift, Collaboration, and Coaching (3 Cs Inclusion Project),” will serve and support Pulaski County Schools and Waynesboro City Public Schools and prepare them to be models for effective inclusion practice for other school divisions across Virginia.

“Inclusive education has been identified as a critical area of need in Virginia public schools as a practice to improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities,” said Altieri, a STEL professor. “There is ample documentation of the effectiveness of inclusive educational practices that warrant support for a project designed to create two model school divisions – one county and one city – to build capacity and achieve systems change.”

The goal will be achieved, the faculty members said, by implementing the 3 Cs Inclusion Project which will create a cultural shift, build collaborative inclusion teams and provide coaching to school personnel.

The Radford faculty members will work to initiate a cultural shift through a two-prong process. The first being inclusion teams organizing professional development for school personnel, youth and family members in coordination with partnering outside organizations that support disability awareness/pride activities.

An inclusion team made up of administrators, general educators, special educators, parents, students and related service providers will be formed at each of the eight schools across the two school divisions. Teams will collect and analyze data to develop an inclusion action plan specific for their school with guidance from Altieri, Douglas and Minarik.

One or two team members will be trained to serve as inclusion coaches for the school. Coaches will assist staff with improving classroom inclusive practices, developing individualized education programs (IEPs) that foster inclusive practices, and collaborating between the various stakeholders.

The second prong will develop “as we facilitate one-day workshops at five regional conferences to train parents and youth with developmental disabilities to advocate for inclusion in their school and communities,” Altieri said.

“Across Virginia, we will prepare a minimum of 125 family members and youth – 25 people at each of the five conferences – to engage in grassroots efforts to advocate for the 3 Cs process for inclusive practice in their schools and communities by presenting at their local Special Education Advisory Committees, school boards and school faculty meetings using materials we will share with them,” Altieri said.

Altieri and Minarik, a STEL associate professor, serve as co-directors of the Virginia Inclusive Practices Center at Radford University. Both have co-authored an Inclusive Practices Guide for Virginia Department of Education expected to be released later this fall.

Douglas, a new special education faculty member at Radford University, has extensive experience promoting inclusion as a high school special educator, college instructor, action researcher and professional development facilitator.

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