Dedication to an inclusive mindset makes Princeton City Schools intervention specialist Melanie Broxterman deserving to receive Think Inclusive’s “Inclusion Spotlight” treatment. Her current case load for the 2013-2014 academic year includes kindergartners and first graders. While not all of her students are in general education all day, Broxterman made evident through her remarks the building she teaches at possesses an inclusive attitude. Read the highlights from our conversation listed below for further evidence.

Melanie BroxtermanOn becoming interested in special education: “I started in education and I had to take a class that was just a general special ed class about different disabilities. It was very general. Back then (late 1990s) it was more like ‘If you have a student with diabetes in your class, what would you do?’…”

“I had to do a practicum, spend some hours out in the classroom. Once I went out and saw some of the classrooms and saw what was going on I knew that was where I needed to be. I enjoyed the problem solving piece, just being able to see the kids and be able to see those accomplishments. I love having that challenge and being able to problem solve and then being able to see those kids be successful.”

Inclusion levels for her students: “Right now I have some students who do not go out at all except for special events like parties or we go to assemblies. They’re in the cafeteria when the other kids are eating in the cafeteria but they’re a little bit more self-contained to my classroom.”

“Then I have students on the other end of the spectrum on my case load. I have one little boy who is fully included in kindergarten and he is doing wonderful. Then I have kids in between who go out for art, gym, music, or recess to spend more social kind of time (with their peers). Then when they come to me we focus on the academic portion.”

Looking at the whole student:  “At our elementary school we are very focused on getting each child to succeed at whatever task that may be whether that be reading, math. Whether there are students struggling if they’re on an IEP, or not on an IEP, I feel like we look at the kids as a whole too. So we don’t just focus on their reading score or they only identified so many letters. We look at the student as a whole. Are they attending? Is there an attendance problem? Can we support the parents?”

“Going back to that looking at the whole child, I think an IEP only gives you a certain little snapshot of things. In order for them to be fully developed as a student and as a kid we have to also look at those kind of (daily living) things too to make sure they’re having that full experience as well.”

“Finding that balance is hard, it can be hard as a teacher. You want the best for all the kids trying to balance okay academic piece but we also need them to be able to walk down the hallway. They need to be able to find the bathroom, just finding that balance with everything.”

Setting unofficial goals: “Even though a goal on her IEP isn’t she will walk from this part of the hallway to the classroom, we’re going to start making her do that because that’s something she should be able to do.”

“There is so much that also makes up what they (students) need to do to be successful in school and what they’re going to need when they get to the middle school and when they get to the high school. On an IEP I can’t always put that they’ll choose a preferred friend in the classroom or they’ll be able to show a preferred person that they like to work with. Just little goals like that aren’t necessarily something I’d put on an IEP but they’re very important for those skills that are going to take them through.”

Her school’s inclusive attitude: “Our school is very, very unique. People sometimes think of a special education classroom that it looks very restrictive in the different school districts. Our school, the way our district runs is the students who would be students with multiple disabilities come to our school. So the kids here and the parents are all used to people who look different and who are different.”

“The kids can come out and it doesn’t matter that they have a wheelchair or they can’t talk or they’re doing this or that. They are a part of the classroom and they can do things within the classroom.”

“I have students who definitely get that social piece. They love being around the other kids and will play with them on the playground. They will seek out their peers and then the peers will come if they see them (the special ed kids) playing by themselves, their peers will come over and get them to play too.”

“The teachers here all have those higher expectations for them (special ed students). So when they come out they know if the kids are not doing something they should do they (general educators) don’t look at me and say ‘Can you have him sit up?’ or whatever. They are right on it. ‘You need to be up.’ They start taking some of that teacher role they should have.”

What inclusion means to Melanie: “A community where all individuals are equally valued for their uniqueness. Within the community, all individuals are encouraged and supported to reach their fullest potential.”