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In the News: Building New Bridges: Co-teaching at LVJUSD

November 8, 2018 – Livermore, CA - Any successful partnership brings out the best in both parties. At the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD), teachers and students are committing to a new partnership in certain classrooms – bringing together educators and students in both general and special education to the benefit of all.

In a traditional model, students in a Special Day Class (SDC), are taught separately in a different classroom from their peers in general education. By contrast, in this innovative co-teaching model, both SDC and general education students share the same classroom and share two teachers. The general education teacher and the SDC teacher collaborate on lesson plans and classroom management. Additionally, two classroom aides are present to assist the teachers and to provide individual help to any of the students in the class.

Given the opportunity to engage in the general education lessons together, with the added resources of two partnered teachers and aides, every student thrives – those who are high-achieving and ready for new challenges, and those who need additional support. If some students could benefit from a one-on-one or smaller groups, with a teacher or aide, the co-teaching class allows for the seamless transition from an individualized or small group lesson back to the fold of the general class. Teachers can take advantage of the added resources and time to push students to new heights.

The increased teacher presence helps prevent students from falling behind. “When we’re able to break the class into smaller groups that can each get personal attention from one of us, we can reach students more quickly,” said Altamont Creek teacher Darlene Stovall – a general education teacher co-teaching with SDC teacher Raney Shimozono.

Students needing extra help to solidify their comprehension of a skill or subject can turn virtually anywhere in the co-teaching classroom. The inclusive environment fosters a sense of responsibility from fellow classmates for everyone’s success. Students in general education are eager to support their peers in SDC, which provides an additional avenue of learning for all students. The ability to clearly explain recently learned information is a crucial piece of the comprehension puzzle, and the co-teaching class is a perfect environment for students to practice sharing their knowledge with one another.

“I’m most impressed with the level of academic rigor our students in special education have stepped up to when they have the opportunity,” said Arroyo Seco Principal Gatee Esmat. “Our students are participating in a model of an inclusive community and thriving academically and socially.”

This uptick in academic performance is noted by every educator and administrator involved in the co-teaching model, but on top of that they are seeing improvements in the behavior of students. They point to a larger social circle for every student, a greater sense of community, and a decrease in behavioral issues. “By keeping students from general education and SDC together, everyone feels included on an academic and community level,” said Tara Aderman, principal at Altamont Creek. “It’s not a separate program, it’s just another class, and that contributes to a school-wide feeling of inclusion for all of our students.”

“The program provides growth opportunities for students in both general and special education,” said Frank Selvaggio, Director of Special Education at LVJUSD. “Students in special education being placed with their peers and receiving consistent exposure to the general education curriculum raises the bar for their success, and they’re meeting or exceeding that bar. For the students in general education, they are gaining empathy skills and more individualized challenges than they might in another class.”

The co-teaching model is being practiced successfully at several sites throughout the LVJUSD – at Christensen and Mendenhall middle schools and Granada High School. Selvaggio hopes to expand the program wider throughout the District – something wholeheartedly endorsed by the participating co-teachers and principals at Arroyo Seco and Altamont Creek. The teaching pairs at both sites coordinate with the other to share strategies, successes, and ways to improve the nascent program for themselves and future participants. By enhancing opportunities for the success of teachers and students, and creating a more compassionate community committed to raising everyone up, co-teaching shows promise for all involved as a model for collaborative education.