Preparing Early Childhood Educators for Inclusion
July 11, 2016
By Carol Dennis
Making early childhood education effective for every child, one new educator at a time
They sat around a long row of tables, representing faculty from six Oregon community colleges and staff from TRI. They were gathering for the last official time as a group of educators focused on the same mission - infusing into the Early Childhood Education (ECE) curriculum at their institutions the strategies needed to serve all of Oregon’s children, including those with diverse abilities.
Community college educators gather for a common mission
The occasion was the final meeting of Project PEPI - Preparing Early Childhood Professionals for Inclusion, a four-year project headed by TRI's Patricia Blasco, Ph.D., and funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP – a division of the US Department of Education).
Sharing stories about how the enhancements opened eyes
The tone of the conversation was energized, as the participants shared stories about how they use the “inclusion enhancements” in their curriculum, about watching some of the students taking their ECE classes suddenly realize that they wanted to pursue careers in Special Education, and seeing the awareness from faculty and students that sometimes making very small accommodations in a preschool classroom can mean all the difference to the child who has a disability.
Becoming more confident with inclusion
Comments like, “It’s been a wonderful journey with PEPI,” were expressed throughout the room. For most of these community college ECE instructors, early intervention and early childhood special education were not their areas of expertise. One said that the support she got from the PEPI staff has helped her feel more confident talking about Early Intervention with her students.
Realizing that the project was coming to an end
Slowly, throughout the day, came the awareness that the project was coming to an end. The grant period was running out and the pilot project they had help build would have to enter a new phase if it was to continue - a new phase that has not yet been defined.
The people around those tables knew that somehow all the work they had done needed to be made available to every community college in Oregon and, if possible, across the country. They had seen its impact and knew it needed to continue.
Will we still have access to the content?”
Questions like, “Will we still have access to the content?” and “Can I still call [the PEPI staff] to get guidance?” focused the energy in the room on finding a way to keep it going. One could feel a determination that came from knowing they had each been an important voice in creating this state-wide resource - a resource that can last for decades and positively impact ECE students, and therefore the children they will eventually serve.
Project staff shared ideas for
sustainability of the website and updating of resources as a statewide
project. The faculty were very
supportive of this goal. The PEPI
meetings have been one of the few statewide meetings where faculty had time to come
together and discuss curriculum, and everyone present wanted that to continue.
Project PEPI origins
Project PEPI (Preparing Early Childhood Professionals for Inclusion) was designed to fill in the gaps that exist in Early Childhood Education curriculum in Oregon’s community colleges to support the inclusion of children with disabilities and those from culturally diverse backgrounds.
After a successful roll-out of a pilot program within four Oregon community colleges, OSEP decided to expand the program and increased funding to Project PEPI for the 2014-15 academic year. This increase allowed the project to add two additional community colleges.
Project PEPI was a collaboration between TRI (in partnership with the College of Education at Western Oregon University) and Southwestern Oregon, Chemeketa, Portland, Blue Mountain, Clackamas, and Lane Community Colleges.
Participant left us these thoughts
Pam Ditterick (Chemeketa Community College)
This project has provided me with professional support and resources to help me better address and discuss inclusion in my classes. This experience has helped me develop professionally, to be more comfortable discussing the topic of inclusion. [I've enjoyed] networking and building professional community college relationships.
Maidie Rosengarden (Southwest Oregon Community College)
When we used PEPI with a cohort group of family home child care providers, they and the center teachers, were excited to learn about modifications. They were curious and dove into the topic more deeply throughout and after the course. The bonus was that three were Spanish speaking and I was able to offer them the Spanish language resources right alongside the English. It felt like a time when everything came together – as it was meant to as an educator.
Andrew Garland-Forshee (Portland Community College)
PEPI has provided us innovative course enhancements that bring inclusionary practices to life. Crosswalking PEPI objectives with course outcomes has allowed us to “reboot” or “retool” older curriculum, making content more applicable to students.
Dawn Hendricks (Clakamas Community College)
As the only full-time faculty member in my ECE program, having access to Project PEPI staff and resources has been like having another faculty member! They have been incredible resources and mentors in helping me create a new course on inclusion and integrating inclusive practices into all of our coursework. Thank you!
Dawn Kennison-Karrigan (Blue Mountain Community College)
This is my first year as an ECE Director. The materials and information that was sent to me was so valuable. I read everything and share it with all our faculty. It has made a huge difference with our students and how they feel about inclusive settings.
Ruai Gregory (Blue Mountain Community College)
How wonderful to be validated for our intentional inclusion of inclusive practices in early childhood education classes. Your resources have enhanced my classes and inspired my students to feel they can teach and enjoy ALL the students in their classrooms. What a priceless contribution! It’s been a wonderful journey with PEPI.
Meredith Villines (Portland Community College)
Using the PEPI website has helped to expand the use of enhancements in the course I teach. The enhancements suggested on the PEPI site provide meaningful learning tools, especially for students who are professionally ready to dig a little deeper.
Bev Hickey (Lane Community College)
[Project PEPI] helped me to connect with other community college instructors and what they are teaching in the area of children with special needs, gave me up-to-date information, and some new information. I appreciate the PEPI website resources, relationships with other professionals, and the familiarity with WOU.
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