Program Unites Handicapped and Regular Students; Southside Elementary Is Teaching Youths to Accept Differences

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY HURST

FERNANDINA BEACH - Dianne Febles is all about teaching regardless of students' handicaps. She teaches profoundly mentally handicapped students from all over Nassau County at Southside Elementary School on Jasmine Street.

She also exposes the school's regular-education kindergartners and first-graders to her students so they can learn acceptance of others' differences. She started the inclusion program in 1994.

During a presentation to the Nassau County School Board Feb. 22, Febles said research for her doctorate in education showed the program works well to teach acceptance of the disabled.

Overall, kindergartners who participated in the inclusion program scored nearly two points higher on measures of acceptance, indicating they were more comfortable around and accepting of children with handicaps compared to their first-grade peers who did not participate.

Febles said there had been some discussion of cutting the time for the program in half but now, according to School Superintendent John Ruis, that won't be happening.

Sherry Dubner, whose granddaughter, Alexis, is in Febles' class, was glad to hear the news. She told School Board members Feb. 22 she felt the program is a win-win situation not only for the children but the entire community.

"The inclusion program is fantastic," Dubner said. "You need to see it personally. Ms. Febles is a fantastic teacher. I wish there were more like her."

The regular education students come to Febles' room, where seven handicapped students are in special seats, swings and stanchions, which allow students to stand up, instead of remaining in wheelchairs or other devices. Some are fed through tubes. All are nonverbal. A nurse and aides help the students in the classroom.

On inclusion days, the classroom is filled with shouts, claps, rewards and laughter. The students help each other learn. That's the idea.

The regular education students are buddies to the handicapped children.

Before the program starts each year, the regular education students are exposed to what they may be seeing in Febles' classroom - wheelchairs and other specialized and medical equipment.

"It promotes positive character building by giving all children a chance to be successful," Febles said. "Students without disabilities serve as role models for communication, academic, behavior and social skills. It also allows students with disabilities to work on skills within a natural environment."

In each session, the children are assigned to their partners. They are given partner packs, with materials that help promote acceptance of individual differences.

They sing Hand Over Hand and The Partner Song and they read "nonsensical rules," which make them all laugh.

Febles uses flash cards to teach sight words, and alphabet and sounds recognition. Then they read a disability-based book. At the end, they get a treat from her Treasure Chest.

Southside Principal Diane Middleton said she thinks the inclusion program is a great one.

"There are benefits for all the students," she said. "The regular education students and Ms. …