Second-grade students in inclusion class thriving

Published 12:06 pm Sunday, October 26, 2014

Donna Ortego’s second-grade classroom at M.J. Kaufman Elementary was filled with chatter during Thursday’s math lesson. However, students weren’t goofing off; they were in groups of twos, racing to see who could figure out a math problem the quickest.

Watching the students, one would never suspect that Ortego’s class is an inclusion class, with over half of her 20 students having special needs. During the lesson, students were engaged, excited and counting numbers by 10s up to 1,000s using play money, number discs, white boards and other learning tools.

Ortego, who has taught for 25 years, said some may think her class seems chaotic and crazy at times, but that is just her style of teaching. She said her way works well with her students, who all learn differently and have various needs.

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Furthermore, Ortego said inclusion classes enable students with special needs to learn in the same environment as their peers. She said she pushes all of her students hard, and that even with new education standards and a new math curriculum, they’re all doing well and progressing.

“I have embraced the new curriculum, and I feel very comfortable teaching it,” Ortego said. “These children see things differently, and it’s OK. My goal is to see them accomplished. They’ve done really well.”

Principal Nicole Adaway said that in her school — not just the inclusion classes — teachers tailor lessons to meet each student’s needs. Adaway said every child in the school is taught on an individual level.

Ortego said teaching this way is hard work, but that she doesn’t mind because that’s her job. She said she does have to tweak the curriculum at times, and that’s her teacher discretion. Ortego said she does that in all subjects — not just math — when needed.

“If I get the deer-in-the-headlights look from my babies, I stop because that means I need to back up,” she said. “If my students are struggling on something, I’m not moving forward. I make myself accountable and change my delivery.”

Ortego said she also keeps parents informed of everything she is doing in the classroom. She said newsletters and texts are sent to parents every time she changes modules or starts a new lesson. She said parents in her classroom have been positive, and she has had no issues.

Ortego said she keeps homework minimal and makes a point not to send a lot home. She said she tells parents that if it takes more than 30 minutes to do homework, the student should stop doing it and the parent should write her a note or call her.

“We are all working together,” Ortego said. “If my parents complain, I have got to work that out. That’s my job as a teacher.”(MGNonline)