Shelton-Mason County Journal - Dedicated to the citizens of Mason County, Washington since 1886

Sand Hill Elementary attests to 'vision of inclusion'

Parents speak about effects on their kids


February 2, 2023

Sand Hill Elementary Principal Jason Swaser, Assistant Principal Rosanna Lampano and special education teachers Aurora Tollestrup and Rachel Caraway addressed the North Mason School District Board on Jan. 19 about their school’s inclusionary practices.

“Our vision of inclusion at Sand Hill Elementary is that we are engaging and challenging every student, in every classroom, every day,” Lampano said. “How are we going to address that goal within our building? We identified three main areas of student development to focus on,” those being academics, behavioral and social-emotional.

To address academics, Sand Hill runs a “WIN Time” model, with WIN standing for “What I Need,” to identify and provide precisely what each student needs to be successful in the classroom.

“We use frequent progress monitoring, as well as data collection, to target specific skills for students,” Lampano said. “That can be remedial skills where students are struggling.”

Likewise, if Sand Hill teachers have high-achieving students, Lampano said, “We can meet them where they are,” with similarly intensive, targeted interventions, to furnish all students with whatever skills they might require to succeed academically, thanks to their teachers making data-informed decisions.

To aid their students’ behavioral development, Lampano said Sand Hill uses a multitiered system of “Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports,” or PBIS, to make clear to students what “respectful, responsible, safe and kind” behaviors look like, and that such behaviors are expected of them.

“Young kids are motivated by rewards, so PBIS is a rewards-based system,” Lampano said. “We see them showing expected behaviors, and we reward them with positive tickets that can accumulate over time. Kind of like Chuck E Cheese, (students) can turn them in for prizes.”

Such rewards are coupled with informative responses, so students understand what they’ve done right, while students who struggle receive “additional layers of support,” Lampano said.

Lampano credited the “Character Strong” program with providing research-based social-emotional learning and character education, “targeting specific character traits each month, and providing students with age-appropriate lessons to teach them about (each) character trait.”

January has seen the trait of “perseverance” being taught through classroom conversations, videos and morning announcements, which will culminate in celebrations of students who have been judged as demonstrating that trait through end-of-the-month certificates, pictures and parties.

Caraway and Tollestrup then discussed how Sand Hill Elementary’s special education is addressing its students’ needs academically, behaviorally and socially-emotionally.

In the past, students who needed support in certain areas were pulled out of class into separate groups, but by allowing classes with mixed levels of needs for certain types of support to remain together, the special education teachers believe it has fostered a sense of community, where students feel like they can learn from their peers on such issues.

Caraway said she saw a decrease in concerning behaviors since the program began this year. She and Tollestrup have supplied tips to other teachers, such as movement breaks for fidgety kids, to help prevent certain behaviors from occurring in the first place.

For those students who are still not ready to be integrated into the classroom, the special education teachers have developed the “functional learning space,” so those students can work on their skills independently, learning to lessen their need for adult support, with an eye toward eventual classroom integration.

Mother Megan Musson stepped up to talk about her son, Sammy, who’s completing his eighth and final year at Sand Hill Elementary, having proceeded from two years of developmental preschool through fifth grade, after being diagnosed with autism at 2 ½ years old.

Megan said Sam participates in a general education environment for at least 70% of each school day now, while receiving speech and occupational therapy through the North Mason School District.

Megan admitted to feeling overcome with emotion over the effect of the support Sam has received through his schooling, as Caraway has spent hours at a time talking with her about how best to help her son so he might “not just survive, but thrive” in the school environment.

“He has the opportunity to witness 25 other children learning, so he can learn from them, not just academically, but socially,” Musson said. “He’s learning the difference between right and wrong, not necessarily always through his actions, but from observing other people’s actions, through peer modeling.”

Musson has witnessed the difference these methods have made in her son.

“When Sam came to Sand Hill, he didn’t speak,” Musson said. “He didn’t look you in the eye. He didn’t acknowledge people when they walked into the room. (But) now, he’s excited to go to school. He wants to participate in activities, and not just during school hours. Sam also participates in science club after school, because he’s given the opportunity to have paraeducator support outside of school hours, so he can be included in these things.”

Musson concluded, “We had an opportunity to move out of state a couple of years ago. We chose not to because we didn’t think we’d find another school district like North Mason. That was the No. 1 thing on our list. We’re not going to find this somewhere else.”

Author Bio

Kirk Boxleitner, Reporter

Shelton-Mason County Journal & Belfair Herald
[email protected]


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