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Benefits of Inclusion

"Funding inclusion Supporters of inclusion in the local Head Start preschool program want to raise a $200,000 endowment to permanently fund it. Donations to the endowment can be sent to Skagit Valley College, 2405 E. College Way, Mount Vernon, WA 98273. Anyone with questions can call Goodman at (360) 679-8441. A little boy stumbling over his feet falls behind the group of other preschool-aged children. A little girl takes him by the hand and urges him on, helping him up when he falls. That's what I'm talking about, says Wayne Goodman, pointing at the two children. It's a living example of the benefits of inclusion, says Goodman, the center manager for North Whidbey Head Start. Inclusion is the idea that children of all abilities and disabilities should be schooled together. Proponents of inclusion believe children with challenges will learn better from able-bodied children, and that able-bodied children will grow to be more sensitive, well-rounded people if they grow up alongside children with special needs. But the North Whidbey Head Start program, which is considered by supporters to be a model of inclusion for preschoolers, will lose its inclusiveness this fall because of budget problems. That is, unless those supporters raise a large enough endowment. Goodman said the program is scheduled to lose its non-Head Start children, meaning those who do not qualify under federal poverty standards. In other words, only children who live in rather extreme poverty will be in the class. It's like we're segregating the rich kids and the poor kids and the kids with special needs, Goodman said. For years, North Whidbey Head Start - which has gone through several name changes - has been unique in allowing non-Head Start children to take the class alongside the Head Starters. Of the 13 Head Start centers in Island, Skagit and San Juan County (all of which are administrated through the Skagit Valley College), only North Whidbey has been inclusive in this way. North Whidbey Head Start, located in a make-shift building next to the Oak Harbor Elementary School, holds two classes a day of 18 students, a total of 36 little kids. Goodman said that half are currently non-Head Start children. To qualify for Head Start, a family of three has to make less than $13,880 a year, or a family of four must make less than $16,700. Along with the preschool class four days a week, Head Start also has a social service component. Goodman said social workers do monthly home visits to the homes of Head Start children. The classes also include children from the community whose parents pay $160 a month to send their kid to the school. There are also special needs children - those with physical, emotional or learning disabilities - sponsored by the school district with Title 1 funds. Yet Margy Miller, the director of Skagit-Island Head Start, said the fees from the parents and the funding from the school district simply haven't been enough to cover the cost of non-Head Start children. In the past, she said, the program helped supplement those children with transition funding, but that funding is now needed in other places. The news of the change has upset some parents, especially Michelle Fischer. She is a local mother of three who suffers, along with her children, from a rare spinal cord disorder that affects the mobility of her legs. Fischer said she put her special-needs children in Head Start - although they don't qualify financially - so they could be with all types of other children. I'm a big supporter of inclusion, she said. It makes a very huge difference to all the kids if they are together from the beginning. The barriers just fall away. Children learn best from little faces, from interaction with their peers. Although the family is moving away this summer, Fischer said she cares enough about the program to help start an endowment for inclusion. To keep the community and special needs children in the classes, Miller said it would cost $35,000 a year. But since an endowment funds programs by using the interest off the initial fund, Miller said they need to raise about $200,000 to save inclusion. I think it can be done, she said. "

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