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Plans for first K-12 inclusion school moving ahead in Dorchester

Posted by boston.com  October 21, 2013 01:55 PM

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By Melanie Dostis, Globe Correspondent 

Dorchester may be the setting of the state’s first K-12 inclusion school for students of all learning levels, as officials move ahead with a proposal to link the William Henderson Inclusion School and the Harbor Pilot Middle School.

The proposed merger of the two inclusion schools would provide a straight educational pathway for students from pre-kindergarten through high school, allowing parents to keep their children in the same school, instead of searching for alternatives, school officials say.

“We wanted to limit the number of transitions that families have to make. Often, by high school, a child has already gone to six (or) seven different schools, especially if their child has certain disabilities,” said Isabel DePina, headmaster at the Harbor School. “We sat down and thought, how do we limit that problem . . . so that we’re not trying to put a Bandaid on it every year?”

Both Dorchester schools provide an inclusion school model, in which students with physical and emotional disabilities learn in the same classroom as their non-disabled peers.

The Henderson School serves pre-kindergarten to fifth grade. It was founded in 1989, following advocacy by parents for disabled children to be educated with other students. It has long been a feeder school to the Harbor School, which serves sixth to 10th grade. 

The combined school would have at least 480 students, based on enrollment figures, but schools officials expect the number to increase gradually.

“One problem we saw as we went forward was having a fully inclusive pathway all the way to 12th grade. We don't have a successful pathway that looks like that in Boston,” said Patricia Lampron, principal at the Henderson School. “Part of being innovative was to create that, so as to build on the strength we’ve had.”

Plans for the merger began last spring. If approved by the Boston School Committee, the K-12 inclusion model would begin in the 2014 school year.

DePina said the merger also would resolve space problems. This year, the Harbor School was expanded to 10th grade, after ninth grade was added in the last year.

The Henderson School, meanwhile, had a waiting list of 700 students for elementary seats this year, Lampron said, with only about 10 classrooms available in the limited space. Henderson has a capacity of about 250 seats and hopes to double that number in a bigger building.

“We’re growing, and we don’t have space. We want to expand for families the number of pre-school seats available,” Lampron said.

Plans for the new Henderson K-12 Inclusion School call for kindergarten and first grade to remain at the Henderson building, while students in grades two to 12 would move to a building nearby on Croftland Avenue that now houses Dorchester Academy,according to school officials. In turn, Dorchester Academy, also a public school, could move into the Harbor School building.  

School officials say all parents stand to benefit from the new model.

“In inclusion classrooms, teachers develop their craft so much more. They think about every single student and the learning patterns that work,” said DePina. “It really does benefit all general education students because all of a sudden, there’s strategies that work for each student.”

Boston Public Schools Interim Superintendent John McDonough agreed.

"We believe that the inclusion model greatly benefits not only our students with disabilities, but also their non-disabled peers,” he said in a statement.

McDonough and Governor Deval Patrick visited the Harbor School in late September and said the merger would be a great step forward for Massachusetts.

“Harbor’s inclusion model demonstrates how we are closing the achievement gap and giving even our most vulnerable children the opportunity to succeed,” Patrick said in a statement.  

This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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