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Beyond the Books: Nixon Elementary offers fully-inclusive classroom

Walkers like this are common in Nixon Elementary School's fully-inclusive preschool classroom.

Preschool teachers at Nixon Elementary School in Cedar Rapids are partnering their effort and expertise to offer students from all backgrounds a diverse learning environment.

Kaitlin Scott is in her second year at Nixon as an early childhood special education teacher.

Her students deal with a variety of "physical needs, cognitive needs, social-emotional needs, behavioral needs and medical needs," often resulting in minimal interaction with traditional classroom settings.

During parts of the 2015-16 academic year, Scott spearheaded a plan to change this by creating a fully-inclusive preschool classroom.

Year one provided a template, but was met with various challenges, ultimately resulting in scattered success, but skepticism about the program's future.

After buy-in from school and district leadership, Scott worked with educators to hash out an implementation strategy.

Now, in its first complete year, the program has proven successful and sustainable.

"One of the greatest things that I've seen with some of our gen. ed. students is that you see a level of compassion and empathy that you wouldn't see otherwise," said preschool teacher Libby Richardson.

Starting exposure to diversity early is considered best practice within education and can assist long-term development.

"I'm hoping that they're able to carry that on as they get older and they go into other classrooms and see that it's not gonna be 20-some kids just like you," said preschool teacher Dorry Ross. "You're gonna be seeing other kids of all different lifestyles, cultures, and abilities."

The program has been so successful, Nixon educators are urging other schools and districts to strive for greater inclusion.

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