In 2013, education leaders in California developed a “Task Force on Special Education” to identify barriers faced by students with disabilities and submitted recommendations to make the school system work for students of all abilities. One proposal in closing the performance gap is early childhood education. Research has consistently confirmed that children who have quality care and early education realize important gains in language and social-emotional cognitive development. For children with disabilities, it is even more crucial, as early intervention and education can identify developmental delays at a young age. To promote an environment that enables children of all abilities to flourish, the Task Force envisioned a setting where general education and special education programs work together as one system. Under this inclusive system, students with disabilities will learn, play, and interact in classrooms alongside their general education peers.
Following these recommendations, Lifehouse and our partners, the Marin County Office of Education and Dominican University, will open an inclusive preschool in Marin County. Mary Jane Burke, the Marin County Superintendent of Schools, is “thrilled about this opportunity to offer a positive, enriching preschool experience for children with and without disabilities. It is our hope that this will develop into a best practices model and potentially become available to all children. Research has shown that children with disabilities show greater academic and social growth when they are in a welcoming, inclusive environment. Moreover, children with and without disabilities will benefit from even greater opportunities for teacher collaboration, social skill development, and diversity within the classroom setting”. After many months of collaboration and planning, we are excited to announce that the inauguration of our inclusive preschool, Great Expectations, is set for the Fall of 2018. As it is the Lifehouse mission to provide services to enable each individual regardless of disability to live a full life and to be integrated into the community, the preschool will be a great opportunity to begin the process of positive socialization and academic readiness for young children with disabilities. Ultimately, our goals are to show how inclusiveness is beneficial for all parties involved and serve as a model for future inclusive preschool classrooms both in Marin County and nationwide.