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International School of Kenya Embraces Life-Centered Education

The International School of Kenya is embracing Life-Centered Education (LCE) in the classroom and beyond.

By Heidi Laws & Donna Bracewell

05/06/2020

International School of Kenya Embraces Life-Centered Education
ISK has a commitment to supporting each student to nurture passion, creativity, and ambition in pursuit of a better world.

One of our students, Katie (Grade 2), was invited to her first birthday party this fall. Even though she would be accompanied by a caregiver, we were concerned about how she would behave, as she can be overly excited, loud and disruptive. Her peers, however, took it upon themselves to explain to parents and guests that she just gets excited because she has autism and her brain is wired differently; but “she is really nice.” The experience was wonderful; she has been to two other parties and even had her first play date with a classmate!

ISK’s mission statement embodies our commitment to supporting each student to nurture passion, creativity, and ambition in pursuit of a better world. This commitment is also reflected in the services and programs we offer to meet the needs of diverse learners such as Katie. More than committing to our students and mission, the LCE program is a reflection of ISK’s organizational intelligence.

The Life-Centered Education program at ISK

The new LCE program at ISK is designed to serve students who have a diagnosed intellectual or developmental disability and require individualized academic and social skill instruction. Students accepted into our program receive customized instruction and support from highly trained special educators and assistant teachers. Additionally, students are integrated into daily activities in their homerooms and in the elementary school’s elective classes.

ISK’s LCE program focuses on teaching academics, social skills, and life skills to students with special education needs so as to help them be successful in their daily lives. Individual goals are outlined within the ISK Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), which are developed after evaluation by educational psychologists and therapists. Goals outlined in the IEP are addressed daily in LCE classes.

The LCE Program, which is expected to double in size by next year, helps students embrace many of ISK’s educational aims, including:

• Empathy

• Risk-Taking

• Growth Mindset

“We never set limits on our students; rather, we are embracing their growth through risk taking and collaboration. As for the community at large, ISK is making great strides to instill empathy throughout, as exemplified by the way Katie has been integrated socially,” according to Heidi Pfunder Laws, Student Support Services Coordinator.

LCE benefits not only students within the program, but their neurotypical peers as well. Precisely because the approach to this new program is based on inclusive community values, students throughout ISK are embracing empathy and learning the value of diversity.

Sophie (Kindergarten) is a bubbly, outgoing child with Down Syndrome. While most of the students in her class have embraced her and see her as a valued friend, we recently noticed that some of the little boys were getting very impatient with her. They were complaining about her slowness in transitioning (holding up the line) and there had been a few comments in PE such as, “Sophie is so slow! She will never win.” The LCE teacher had a discussion with the class, revisiting some of the characteristics of people with Down Syndrome.

More importantly, the discussion moved to how we all have strengths and differences, and how winning looks different for each of us. The teacher suggested that, rather than complain about Sophie, maybe they could think of ways to teach her and encourage her. All of the teaching staff noticed an immediate shift in her peers’ attitudes and interactions with Sophie.

The same students who had been complaining have begun enthusiastically encouraging her to walk faster in line and cheering her on in their Track and Field practices.

A Profile for Success

Students may qualify for the LCE program when any of the following descriptions are applicable:

• Student has a diagnosed intellectual or developmental disability, as diagnosed in an educational psychology report

• Student has an IQ score below a score of 75 (although ISK may consider students with higher IQ’s (approx. 76–85 as appropriate)

• Student has previously been in an inclusive program, or has been referred to a similar self-contained program, or has had a 1:1 assistant

• Elementary specific requirements:

- Functional communication skills

- A certain level of ADL (Activities of Daily Living) skills (feeding, dressing, toileting independently) as measured by the Vineland or another parent questionnaire, which we can administer

- Regardless of true age, developmental skills above a certain age, i.e. age 4 or 5 (can also glean from the Vineland questionnaire and likely from information on their psycho-educational assessment)

Learning from Learners

Here’s what we have learned from our LCE students, faculty, and the ISK community at large:

1. Hire well: Ensure that teachers and support staff are well acquainted with special education and care about their students.

2. Involve the admissions team: Have a thorough admissions process and make sure that the families are committed as well to the mission and vision of the program. The admissions process should include a face-to-face interview between the parents and someone from the LCE team, where very specific questions can be asked. (e.g., “Is your child toilet trained?” This question means very different things to different people!)

3. Build family connections: We use the SeeSaw platform to share information and post photos and videos with parents daily. It is quick and easy to use and is helpful so that families and caregivers know what happened during the school day. For our students with limited language, we ask parents to complete a “Weekend Report” template, so we know what has happened and have topics to discuss with the students.

4. Build community within the school: At the start of the year, the LCE team gives introductory workshops to all members of the school community and shares ways that everyone can interact with and support these children. This has paid off in so many ways!

5. Build supportive relationships with the homeroom teachers: The LCE team needs to be sensitive and supportive to the teaching style and needs of the general education teacher. If the homeroom teacher knows that the team is there to support, answer questions, and jump in and help out as needed, then more and more opportunities open up for students in the program.

6. Be flexible: Many of the students that come into an LCE program can be unpredictable. Being prepared to adjust, change the schedule, and try something completely new is an important ingredient to success.

7. Ensure the LCE Team is always learning: Oftentimes, our LCE team is working on different professional development such as ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis), language development approaches, or progress monitoring tools. They share readings and online courses and have specialists come in to give mini-workshops.

8. Take time for reflection: With a new program, and with students who have such complex needs, there are constant changes and things that the team needs to tweak, focus on, and iterate. Having a weekly time as a team to talk about student learning is invaluable.

9. Be schedule-aware: Map out your students’ schedules and ensure that any prospective student “fits” before final acceptance. Some students will need 100 percent 1:1 assistance, including during lunch and playground, not just during instructional time. Map out everyone’s schedule and which staff are where to be sure you can support the student before saying yes!

10. Have a sense of humor!

For more information about LCE at ISK, visit our website: www.isk.ac.ke -> Learning -> Life-Centered Education




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