Special Education (Educación Diferencial) majors of Universidad Mayor are often placed in Colegio Benjamín for various practicums and final practicums (which, in the U.S., we refer to as student teaching). These students have the opportunity to co-teach with the regular education classroom teacher as the Special Education teacher. They adapt the lessons, tests, instructions and materials to meet the needs of students with special needs, as well as diversify strategies. This UMayor student is the Special Education teacher, rather than solely being used as an aide or assistant. They work alongside the teacher to plan and modify materials as needed. This is certainly an adjustment for the classroom teachers, as they are not used to working in the same classroom with another teacher. From my understanding, there is even occasionally some resistance from teachers to co-teach. It seems that they are working to adapt, but it is generally a positive outcome.
Today, we visited Colegio Diferencial Amapolas, and though I wasn’t sure what to expect, I left with a certain feeling of peace and happiness. Just for some background, this is a public school in Santiago that focuses on students with physical challenges, and some with severe intellectual disabilities. It is open to the surrounding community first, and then extends to children who are of a further distance. The main goal of this school is to teach these children to become more independent in their movement, as well as enhance their communication. Colegio Diferencial Amapolas has had a struggle to obtain effective and practical materials, however have come a great distance in the past several years. There is now a sensory room (that includes a water bed, etc.), and many of the classrooms have Smart Boards – Colegio Diferencial Amapolas is one of the only public schools in Santiago with this technology. In order to receive this funding, the school had to work to prove that Smart Boards are an effective tool for students. In addition to this wonderful apparatus, there is a system to ensure all students are being cared for based on their current needs. Students’ wheelchairs each have a ribbon, whose colors represent if they are allowed to be moved or not by an adult. Red indicates no help; white, help sometimes; green, help all of the time. This, again, promotes independence. If a student can move themselves in their wheelchair, they are given the opportunity to do so. Additionally, there are several therapies available to students: Music Therapy, Speech Therapy, Kinesiology, and various workshops (such as dancing/music classes).
We each had the opportunity to observe in classrooms, and my experience was so wonderful. Dr. Schmidt and I were in a classroom that would be considered a 6:1:1 in the United States. There were six students, ranging from three to seven years old, all with multiple disabilities, under the care of one teacher and one aide. Many of them were in wheelchairs and others had special support chairs. We entered the classroom during their daily routine, in which the teacher goes through basic everyday activities (eating, brushing your teeth, etc.). She went down the line of students and handed each student a bowl one by one, in order for them to each feel and connect eating to a bowl. She included sensory materials in this routine, such as blowing bubbles and swaying ribbons across their hands and laps.
This was followed by an activity, which focused on animals and prepositions (on top of, next to, under, etc.). The energy of this teacher was incredible – fun, engaged, patient and genuinely kind-hearted in her teaching. The classroom was so bright, colorful, warm and welcoming. I could feel the happiness and positive energy radiating from each of the students – one in particular did not stop smiling! I loved to watch how naturally this activity flowed, as it was so clear that this teacher promotes a positive, patient learning environment. Working with several students with multiple disabilities cannot be an easy task, but this teacher did a beautiful job in the time I was able to observe. It is even more impressive that she was not told ahead of time we were coming, so it is safe to say that if this is a consistent environment, the students are in great hands. I enjoyed my time observing in this classroom, which was followed by a debriefing as a whole group with administration about special education between the U.S. and Chile, as well as an opportunity to ask any questions we had.
Of course our excursion in the Andes, trip to Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, time in ECELA and all other experiences have been wonderful, but I must say that I have noticed myself feeling the most genuinely warm and joyful while actually in the classrooms. Each time, I am further convinced that I have made the right decision in choosing education as my career path. There is no telling where or what setting or type of classroom I will end up in, but I am able to enjoy this wonderful process of becoming something I enjoy. I am confident in saying that there is absolutely no other career that would leave me feeling this sincerely content. It is even better that I have the opportunity to be in Chile, experiencing the field of education, specifically exceptional education, in a different setting than the United States. I feel so purely enriched.
I feel as if I blinked and our second week is already almost over! We have another field placement tomorrow at Colegio Universitario Inglés, and Katie and I will hopefully be able to implement one of our instructional activities, as we will be together in a 6th grade classroom. On Saturday, our group is going horseback riding in the Andes Mountains!
Hasta la próxima vez,