About the MDSC Center on Inclusive Education (CIE)
At the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress, we are acutely aware that students with Down syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities benefit when education professionals and family members collaborate. With a keen understanding of the importance of this collaboration, the MDSC has launched the Center on Inclusive Education (CIE) to facilitate the sharing of information and resources in effort to best support students at school.
In the current educational landscape, education professionals are challenged on many levels. Standards-based instruction has altered the daily instructional practices of teachers, which in turn has a direct impact on the ways that students with disabilities are accessing the general curriculum. The pacing of instruction in the general education classroom does not always align with the specialized instruction that students with disabilities require, and, as a result of this, students are given fewer opportunities to learn alongside their typical peers. Although federal legislation protects a student’s rights to be educated in the least restrictive environment and countless research studies have proven the benefits of inclusive education for both students with disabilities and students with a typical learning profile, research has also shown that without providing adequate resources, the implementation of a successful inclusion model is near to impossible.
Addressing this critical need, the MDSC is committed to partnering with professionals as they design programs for students that will meet their individual educational needs and provide them with the opportunity to be a valued member of the classroom and full school community.
With an intense focus on increasing our impact on the current educational system, the MDSC established the Center on Inclusive Education to create and disseminate materials and tools to promote educational best practices in working with students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome. The MDSC Center on Inclusive Education will lead the way in transforming educational access and significantly expanding the reach and distribution of the MDSC’s best practice expertise in support of students with Down syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress believes that informed, involved parents are the best educational advocates for their children with Down syndrome. Although educational advocacy is an incredibly important job for parents, we also recognize that, for some, it’s a very challenging one. To that end, the MDSC offers parents and educators who work with students with Down syndrome accurate resources and information necessary for developing strong educational programs that will meet the individual needs of each student.
In order for your child to receive the high quality education and supports he or she needs and deserves, it is important to build and maintain a strong, positive relationship with everyone who plays a key role in educating your child. We believe children benefit most from their education when parents and educators work together as partners, and each perspective is heard and considered.
MDSC Center on Inclusive Education Resource Materials
The MDSC Resource Library contains a myriad of resources for educators and families from local and national leaders in the field, including MDSC designed content created on timely and pertinent topics. Some examples of the content include
- Identifying and Creating Accessible Curriculum Materials – Tips from Teachers
- Addressing Common Roadblocks: Planning for Meaningful Learning Opportunities
- Utilizing Routines to Support Independence and Skill Development
- Developing Independence! Strategies for the Classroom
- Planning for Meaningful Inclusion: A Protocol Driven Process
- Let’s Get on the Same Page! Designing Effective Home-School Communication Systems
Education Task Force
The Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress Education Task Force formed in 2009 to increase communication and collaboration between Massachusetts’ educators and the parents of students with Down syndrome. Comprised of education professionals, the task force provides quality information and ongoing support to Massachusetts educators and their students with Down syndrome. The group’s top priority is ensuring that students with Down syndrome receive the most meaningful learning opportunities possible.
Members guide the creation of education materials for the Center on Inclusive Education, including the production of a comprehensive Education Manual for teaching students with Down syndrome. The Educators Manual, which has been updated and published as a second edition, is a research-based resource guide that includes information, strategies and best practices for educating students with Down syndrome in inclusive classrooms and schools. The task force members provide the perspective of teachers “in the trenches” and, because of this, work hard to develop a speaker program for our conferences that will meet the needs of teachers working in schools.
In addition, the task force is continually seeking new and innovative ways to provide information to teachers in an engaging, accessible way that takes into consideration the great demands that are already being placed upon teachers’ time. On behalf of the MDSC Education Task Force, we want to thank all those who have already provided their leadership and steadfast commitment to helping students with Down syndrome reach their full potential. We are highly respectful of the hard work of teachers and look forward to future collaborations and productive partnerships.
Annual Educators Forum
The Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress recognizes that supporting students with complex learning profiles requires training and professional support for teachers and administrators. Each year, the conference is designed to provide general and special educators, administrators, paraprofessionals, support professionals, and family members with practical workshops that will support them as they work hard each day to meet the educational needs of students.
The MDSC’s resource guide for educators – “Meaningful Inclusion for Students with Down Syndrome” -, a long-term project by the Education Task Force, provides a comprehensive look at the complex learning profile of students with Down syndrome, as well as providing information around best practices and educational considerations that are based upon research-proven best practices.
The second edition, which is now available digitally, includes current research and sections on grades 7-12 in almost every chapter and considers whether or not the suggestions are applicable to other states and other countries.
From the introduction of the second edition:
More students with Down syndrome are included in general education classrooms K-12 every day. Everyone learns when everyone learns together. Special education laws that fully recognize the benefits of an inclusive education for all students. Educators and parents are seeing first-hand that the inclusive classroom can provide a successful learning environment in which all students thrive and succeed. In fact, research in Britain has shown that students with Down syndrome achieve higher success when they are educated with general education students. (Bird & Buckley, 2001). Not too long ago many educators believed that individuals with Down syndrome could not learn to read, write, or do mathematics. Regrettably, these students were not given the opportunity to learn. Fortunately, times have changed, and doors have opened. With higher expectations, access to the general education curriculum, interaction with general education students, and appropriate supports, students with Down syndrome have demonstrated that they will make significant progress. Today, many students with Down syndrome pursue post-secondary education, meaningful employment and independent living opportunities. Inclusion is easiest when educators rely on each other and actively collaborate with the entire educational team – parents, general and special education teachers, administrators, and related support professionals. Efficient communication and collaboration between the student’s educators makes inclusion work. Some teachers may initially be apprehensive about including students with Down syndrome into their general education classrooms. Experience shows, however, that most teachers have the skills to understand the individual needs of students with Down syndrome and are able to teach them effectively and reflectively. We encourage you to take what you already know, understand the “typical” learning profile of a student with Down syndrome, combine it with the information and resources in our guide, and create a useful, individual program for your own student(s). As Michael Giangreco, PhD, University of Vermont, says, “A big part of successful inclusion is a matter of applying the knowledge and skills you already possess to a new situation.” We expect that there may be difficulties, but we also expect that the rewards will greatly outnumber and outshine the challenges.
Collaboration with the Learning Program Boston
The Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress (MDSC) and the 3-21 Foundation continue to collaborate to develop best practices in educating students with Down syndrome. The two organizations join forces to offer the Early Education Workshop Series, Education Curriculum Days, and the Learning Program Boston, a parent-focused educational intervention program for sharing instructional strategies, resources and activities to improve academic outcomes for students with Down syndrome. This year-long program for families of elementary-aged students runs during the school year takes place at the MDSC office in Burlington. In addition, the MDSC and the 3-21 Foundation work together to offer education-related webinars to help families and educators implement effective strategies to enhance the school experience for all students with Down syndrome. The MDSC has been a leader in the field of inclusive education for many years and hosts an annual Educators Forum for teachers to develop practical strategies they can bring back to the classroom. The MDSC’s education manual – Meaningful Inclusion for Students with Down Syndrome – a Resource Guide for Elementary Educators, continues to be highly sought after by families and teachers all across the country. The 3-21 Foundation is a non-profit based in Cambridge, MA. Its mission is to advance innovations in education and cognition for people with Down syndrome. It provides information and support for parents, equipping families with the knowledge and tools to work with their student at home and with their schools. The 3-21 Foundation also supports schools by providing program consultation and professional development to promote the effective instruction and inclusion of students with Down syndrome.
Massachusetts-Based Education Resource Parent Volunteer Program
At MDSC, we understand the importance of peer-to-peer support and the value of personal connections, especially for parents as they work to advocate on behalf of their child at school. When a family from Massachusetts reaches out to the MDSC seeking resources and guidance related to education, they are paired with a trained Education Resource Parent Volunteer who will then connect with the family and provide personal support and applicable resources – including MDSC fact sheets and webinar materials – in collaboration with the Membership Services Director. Initial training is provided for each volunteer on best practices in education and peer-to-peer support. For more information about the program or to be connected to a trained Education Resource Parent Volunteer, email Membership Services Director, Kristen Tenglin, at email@example.com.
“Our education resource parent from the MDSC listened attentively to our situation and was able to provide quality feedback and guidance at the same time offering up valuable advice and questions to ask administration given the challenges we are currently facing within our school. An invaluable resource when you’re planning your child’s education!”
– Robyn Granfors, mom to Claire