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Classroom Visits Support Inclusion

At Kalamazoo RESA West Campus, little learners in Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) and KRESA Head Start work on the developmental, social, and academic skills that will prepare them for success in school and later in life. The two groups of students have traditionally spent most of their time apart, crossing paths in the building only occasionally. This year, however, that has changed. A dedicated team of educators at West Campus is working to connect ECSE and Head Start, creating exciting opportunities for all students to learn from each other. 

Students at a table with an assistantIn the fall, instructional coach Jill Hile, paraprofessional Monyca King and Head Start teacher Stefanie Cavalear devised a plan to put inclusion in motion.

“Research indicates numerous positive outcomes that inclusion and reverse inclusion provide for all students and staff,” Hile said. “Luckily, Head Start and KRESA's ECSE programs share a space at West Campus, so logistically it just made sense to think about how we can increase the opportunities we have available.”

Hile and team capitalized on their proximity to each other and created an inclusion schedule, including reverse inclusion visits. It allows ECSE students to visit Head Start classrooms, and Head Start students to take turns visiting ECSE classrooms.

“Our students didn’t understand why some of our friends don’t talk and they referred to them as babies,” Cavalear said. “Since we’ve been doing the visits and bringing students from ECSE into our room, our students have gained a better perspective and understanding.” 

Since the visits began, students in Cavalear’s three-year-old classroom have learned to communicate with students from ECSE using PEX boards. The icon-based system supports students who communicate non-verbally. 

She’s seen her students using the communication tool during play time and on the playground. “Our students now do a great job including our friends from ECSE and modeling social skills and play. And I’ve seen them offer help on the playground,” Cavalear said. 
“Our visits have accomplished stronger collaboration among general education and special education providers,” Hile continued.  “And students have gained a greater understanding and acceptance of each individual's differences. We've provided opportunities for students to learn from each other socially and academically that wouldn't be possible in a self-contained environment.”

Currently, three Head Start rooms and two ECSE classrooms are participating in the initiative. 

The visits wouldn’t be possible without King, who escorts the students to and from their classrooms each day. She oversees each visit, which lasts up to 15 minutes and includes one or two students. King has seen tremendous growth in both ECSE and Head Start students. 

“Our ECSE students are learning about expectations,” she said. They use their icons to communicate when they enter and leave the classroom. They make requests during play time and are learning how to adapt to environments that are different than their original classrooms, King said. 

Inclusion and reverse inclusion have created a new sense of community at West Campus. “They look out for each other now,” King said. Hile added, “Our hope is to continue to build our relationships and increase collaboration to optimize as many opportunities as possible for our students to learn from one another. As we continue our partnership, our hope is that we can think of other ways our students can experience more inclusive opportunities alongside one another.”

For more information about Early Childhood Special Education, visit Information about KRESA Head Start is available at