Tessa is a second grader who has many talents. She loves to write and says she is "a master at whistling."
She is funny and thoughtful, but struggles with focus and behavioral issues on a daily basis.
Her story is captured in I Am Education: Kids Tell All, a five-part video series about the state of public education in America. In the videos, we hear from the actual kids whose futures are at stake.
"Sometime, I'm not focused," Tessa says. In school, "I should pay more attention."
Many special-needs kids like Tessa end up repeating a grade or are alienated by their peers. What has helped Tessa overcome these difficulties is designated time with specialists and inclusion.
A National Longitudinal Transitions Study shows that when students with disabilities spend more time in a general-education classrooms, they have fewer absences; experience fewer referrals for disruptive behavior; and are more likely to score higher on standardized reading and math tests, which benefits the entire student body and school administration.
Lauren O'Neill, Tessa's principal at Odyssey Charter School in Altadena, California, says the school offers a full inclusion model where her staff works on meeting the needs of their students within a mainstreamed classroom. "This can be through teacher support," O'Neill says. "I also have full-time inclusion specialists, a part-time inclusion specialist, and we have TAs who are very knowledgeable."
"You want kids to be included and feel included," she says. "That's the intention and the spirit behind it."
Inclusion "is a win-win situation for everybody," says Margo Pensavalle, a professor at the USC Rossier School of Education, whose expertise includes special education.
She says, "Everybody brings something to the classroom and that gets to come into the big exchange. And I think from that pool of abilities and differences, everybody gets to learn."