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Japanese educators visit Sandy Creek to do a bit of learning

October 11th, 2011 by Debra J. Groom / The Post-Standard

Sandy Creek, NY -- In Japan, special education students never attend classes with other students.

They go to a special school by themselves.

"We are here to visit to see how they do inclusion," Japanese high school teacher Masahiro Nosaka said through an interpreter. "We want to see how it's done and how it's working here."

"Here" was the Sandy Creek school district, which has had a total inclusion program for its special ed students since the early 1990s. At Sandy Creek, there are no special education classes - the children are all in regular classrooms.

The district has won numerous awards and much recognition for its effort. Christy Ashby, a 1991 Sandy Creek graduate, former Sandy Creek teacher and professor at Syracuse University, said Sandy Creek is the only school district she knows in Central New York that includes all of its special-needs children in regular classrooms.

This so impressed educators in Japan that 16 of them came to town to spend Thursday touring classrooms and cafeterias at the high school and elementary school. Nosaka said that Japan is considering changing its special education system to a program like Sandy Creek's and wanted to see how it works.

"If anyone calls the School of Education and wants information about special education, Sandy Creek is always on the tip of our tongues," Ashby said. "Because of that, they get a lot of visitors."

One group of Japanese got to see fifth-graders in the elementary school interacting in the cafeteria. There were close to 10 special education students there, eating with all the other fifth-graders. The special education students did not stand out from the rest.

The Japanese educators asked elementary school Principal Sue Ann Archibee about grade levels, how many children are in each class and how the special ed students fit in. They busily wrote notes.

Others, like Nosaka, also took photos.

Janice Burns, Sandy Creek's special education coordinator, said Sandy Creek has about 935 students and 13 percent are in special education. She said those range from children with attention deficit disorder to some in wheelchairs and those who are not able to speak.

"This program does a lot for all the students," Burns said. "The special education students get to socialize in their community and know what it's like to be in a community. The other students learn tolerance - it gets rid of their fear of the unknown."

Ashby also said research shows special education students do better at school work in an all-inclusive setting.

Burns said many Sandy Creek graduates have gone on to study special education in college because they had been exposed to it since kindergarten. .

Ashby agrees.

"Sandy Creek has worked very hard at this," she said. "The program broadens the students' views of diversity and that's something that stays with them forever."

Sandy Creek awards

The district's all-inclusive special education program has received awards from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education, the state Education Department Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities and was named a School of Promise by the Syracuse University School of Education. On Oct. 19, the district will receive a statewide award for employer recognition for hiring Sandy Creek graduates with disabilities.
Sandy Creek also is part of a documentary training video titled "Who We Are - What We Do" about inclusive education.

Contact Debra J. Groom at, 470-3254 or 251-5586.

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