By Devese “Dee” Ursery
COLLINSVILLE — Collinsville Community Unit School District 10 received a grant to advance inclusive early childhood services throughout the district.
The Collinsville Community Inclusion Team along with CUSD 10 Early Childhood staff worked together to apply for a grant to scale-up and sustain high quality inclusive preschool education.
“The Advancing Inclusion grant is a planning grant,”said Pre K Coordinator Christine Coleman. “School districts applied for $25,000 grants to plan the providing of special education and related services to preschool students who attend classes in community-based organizations like childcare centers, Head Start centers, etc.”
The Collinsville Community Inclusion Team was launched thanks to the District’s participation in a federal initiative to apply, strengthen and scale up high quality preschool inclusion. The initiative was co-led by the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center and the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations, and included partners from across the early care and education system.
“Our CIT applied for the grant as an extension of the work we’ve been doing over the past four years, Coleman said. “CUSD 10 is one of the few districts in the state to provide special education and related services to eligible preschool students at Riverbend Head Start and Family Services center in Collinsville.”
The Illinois State Board of Education and EarlyCHOICES led the work in Illinois, per a press release from CUSD 10. The program focuses on using indicators to examine the level of preschool inclusion in a community and provide a framework for increased inclusion efforts. Community inclusion teams are a unique strategy to support this effort.
The CIT is made up representatives from various community-based organizations including Riverbend Head Start and Family Services, Brightpoint’s Stronger Beginnings for Families and Child Care Resource and Referral programs, Child and Family Connections 21, and Family Matters Parent Training & Info Center. CUSD 10 staff, administrators and families are also represented on the team.
“Inclusion has been shown to increase learning of both students with special needs and their typically developing peers. It can be difficult for childcare centers and other community-based organizations to make their programs inclusive,” Coleman said. “It takes some foundational knowledge and training of staff. When these organizations partner with their local school district to collaborate, they can more easily gain the capacity needed to serve young children with special needs in their centers.”
Bringing these services to students at their childcare center reduces transitions for these three or four-year old children, who otherwise would need bus transportation mid-day to receive specialized services. The Advancing Inclusion grant award allows CUSD 10 to expand these services into a community-based childcare center.
Kaleidoscope of Kids Daycare has also joined CUSD 10 collaborate in this project. Through this grant, Kaleidoscope received materials needed to better serve preschool students with special needs. These include a sensory activity wall, social-emotional teaching kits and materials, light tables, dolls with special needs and adaptive equipment, and books featuring diverse students. Additionally, Kaleidoscope staff were able to complete observations of inclusive preschool classrooms and receive support from inclusion coaches.
The Collinsville Community Inclusion Team meets monthly to work on various projects that will impact preschool inclusion in the community, including the creation of a website that can be accessed by families and programs. This website documents CIT’s history and progress and offers technical assistance resources to programs and families.
“Ultimately, inclusion of preschool students with disabilities is, simply put, the right thing to do. Each child learns and grows at their own pace and some students need some additional support and individualization to succeed,” Coleman said. “The outside world is not divided into able/disabled; our classrooms shouldn’t be either.”