Submitted by Rene Carroll
Washougal School District’s mission to know, nurture and challenge all students to rise was given a boost last spring when it was awarded a Pre-K Inclusion Champions grant worth $20,000. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) grant aligns with the state’s goals of prioritizing inclusive practices in early childhood learning as well as the K-12 system.
“This is the perfect grant for us as our district focuses on equity, diversity and inclusion,” said Penny Andrews, WSD Special Education Director. “By creating supportive and inclusive classrooms and learning experiences for our preschool students, we are laying the groundwork for improving our inclusion practices into K-12 classrooms. Part of the grant money is designated for creating inclusive classrooms for our earliest learners by having activities designed for learners with specific needs.” The inclusive practices grant is helping school districts shift to a model where students with special needs are able to access general education classroom settings as much as possible.
Other funds are being used for professional development including an inclusionary practices book study, “Universal Design for Learning in the Early Childhood Classroom,” for all preschool staff as well as a series of seminars through ESD called The Inclusionary Practices Project that staff are participating in.
“This year, as we focus a lot of energy into equity, the Pre-K Inclusion Grant from OSPI has been of great support,” said Leslie DeShazer, Birth-5 Teacher on Special Assignment. “A portion of the grant money was used to purchase material to support inclusion in our six preschool classrooms.” They include equity driven books to support social/emotional differences, tools to accommodate fine/gross motor differences, tools to accommodate sensory processing differences, and tools to accommodate communication differences.
“The materials purchased with the grant will provide the opportunity for students with special needs or learning differences to participate and attend preschool with their general education peers,” said Maggie Jennings, preschool speech language teacher. “Inclusion is a wonderful opportunity for students with special needs as well as their general education peers.”
“I’m confident that these materials will help each and every one of our students feel more supported and empowered in our preschool classrooms,” DeShazer added. “In combination with the professional development our teachers have been hard at work with, these materials will make the huge task of embracing equity much more attainable.”
“I can’t tell you how impressed I have been with the preschool classrooms during ‘regular times,’ but especially this year with the COVID challenges,” said Mary Templeton, WSD Superintendent. “They have all created inviting, vibrant, exciting environments for our youngest learners! I appreciate their commitment and passion to see our littlest ones known, nurtured, and challenged to Rise! The investment of this grant into equity makes my heart happy!”
The grant ends in spring of 2021.