Journey to Inclusion

SBPS selected as Pilot for Nebraska Department of Education Journey to Inclusion Project

Scottsbluff Public Schools (SBPS) is proud to announce that they have been selected for participation by the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) as a pilot site for the state’s Journey to Inclusion project. This project is focused on building inclusive school communities that are designed to meet the needs of all students, including those with disabilities.  “Scottsbluff has proven to be a community that truly values the educational experience of each and every student in their schools. Their selection for the Journey to Inclusion project will provide an opportunity to build on their culture of inclusion and create the conditions for a truly inclusive education for all students,” said Amy Rhone, Special Education Administrator from the NDE. 

 “The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) was signed into law 47 years ago.  The law guarantees students with disabilities access to education in the least restrictive environment.“ Dr. Wendy Kemling, Executive Director of Student Services for Scottsbluff Schools acknowledged, “As educators, we continue to refine our practices to ensure we are not only providing access but meeting every child's needs, every single day.  We are excited to have the opportunity to embark on the Journey to Inclusion through the Nebraska Department of Education and SPED Strategies.  As a district, we have always maintained a focus on meeting the needs of all of our students, but this opportunity will help support us in this endeavor through the provision of professional development and coaching.  As one of two districts across the state to be provided this opportunity, we are eager to share our successes, progress, and lessons-learned to support other districts as well.”

 As part of the project, teachers and leaders from Longfellow Elementary School and Bluffs Middle School have been engaged in professional learning and ongoing support to look at shifts that can be made to school structures and classroom practices that create opportunities for students with disabilities to learn alongside their non-disabled peers. For example, prioritizing common planning for general and special education teachers to collaborate can inform the type of support students might need during general education instruction so that they can remain in the classroom, rather than being pulled out to another setting. 

 According to Jana Mason, Principal at Bluffs Middle School, “BMS teachers have increased collaboration time and efforts to meet the needs of all students. This partnership has supported and strengthened current instructional practices to increase student performance and close the achievement gap.”   

Teachers are also engaged in professional learning opportunities to improve their ability to provide instruction that is more inclusive by offering flexibility in the ways students access learning materials and demonstrate what they have learned. This is one way to ensure that students who are receiving their instruction in the general education classroom are able to access the learning opportunities that all students are afforded.  Pilot teams in both buildings are excited about their involvement and the value SBPS puts on inclusive learning.  Michelle Gramling, special educator at Longfellow Elementary believes that the Pilot has helped instill that supporting all students, including students with disabilities, to successfully have access to grade-level content takes collaboration, communication, and a belief that all students can learn. 

As a result of the pilot participation, SBPS is experiencing encouraging signs of meaningful change. School teams are coming together to address the needs of students with disabilities in new and innovative ways. Perhaps Kindergarten teacher Sara Valentine says it best. “The Journey to Inclusion pilot program has opened my eyes to how small changes can make a big impact in providing the best education to all students.  The biggest (small) change I have made so far is working with our teams to make adjustments to lessons and the classroom environments to reach ALL students. Gone are the days of limited communication between critical members of the instructional team! Teamwork changes everything.”

SBPS plans to build on these successes and provide training to additional schools in the future.  Updates about this work will be shared on the District’s website and through social media channels and family newsletters in the pilot schools.