In Academic and Social Immersion, students with disabilities are full members of the community. Imagine the difference that makes in their lives. We don’t have to imagine at Oakstone Academy because we see it everyday. We see lives being changed through immersion. Listen to a few of our students with autism spectrum disorder share the things that stand out to them about their school.
“The teachers are great. They are kind and respectful. They’re good at helping you with work. They just make school fun in general.” -10th grade student
Teachers in Academic and Social Immersion are trained to work with all types of students. Differentiation is the norm–the expectation. Students with IEPs participate in the general education curriculum with supports added where needed and removed when the student is ready. Teachers are more positive and accepting of all types of students because this is literally what the teachers signed up for. The experience and knowledge these teachers have raises the bar of expectations for students with and without disabilities. The focus of instruction really becomes student understanding and engagement for all learners. Teachers celebrate success and progress, but never stop pursuing improved outcomes.
“I like learning now. I just want more leaning. That’s something that happened when I came to Oakstone.” -6th grade student
Because teachers are trained and create a learning environment that works for many different types of learners, many students become passionate about learning. They feel smart–some for the first time. They feel capable and ready to take on challenges. They read more than they thought they could, write more than they ever have, and master content that surprises even their parents and teachers because they discover the inner motivation and passion for learning that comes from the feeling of success in school.
“I like that everybody’s kind here. They actually enforce the No Bullying policy. It (bullying) just doesn’t happen non-stop with no consequence.” -6th grade student
Immersion works when everyone is a member of the community. Students know when posters are hung and lip service is given to inclusion and anti-bullying, but the message is not ingrained in the culture. True inclusion can be messy and uncomfortable when students are held accountable for their words and their behaviors. Sometimes difficult conversations are needed, but they pay off in the positive and welcoming culture built in the school.
“We don’t have stereotypes or bullies or gossip or rumors. I don’t understand when my friends from other schools talk about those things. They just aren’t part of my life.” -7th grade student
Gossip and backstabbing, rumors and cliques….media and culture would tell us that those are all just part of middle school and high school. But they don’t have to be. For many students these aspects of school take over their life and distract from learning and from building relationships. In an Academic and Social Immersion school, everyone has value because everyone is a fully-participating member of the group. Social and emotional learning, character education, and social skills training are incorporated in classes as well as extracurriculars. Everyone represents the school, and their individual and team success is celebrated, whether success for them is a basketball team victory or a great ACT score or a successful service project. All of these activities build the school’s identity and culture, so all are valued.
“I make a lot of friends here. The kids are cool.” -6th grade student
The power of a friend cannot be overstated. In the Academic and Social Immersion Model, we see students have friends. Students are invited to parties, hang out outside of school, or socialize online for the students who live further apart. We watch students help each other and look out for one another. We see true lasting friendships between students of all abilities and backgrounds.
“The atmosphere of the school? Thumbs up! I’m me here, and people like me for me. That’s a new one.” -8th grade student
Middle school and high school are challenging times for everyone as adolescents figure out who they are. Some kids like gaming; other prefer sports. Some want to dress like a Abercrombie model, while others prefer worn jeans and concert tees. In Academic and Social Immersion, everyone has a place and is respected, regardless of interests. While we actively teach students with social impairments how to behave appropriately in social settings, we also support individual interests. It feels good to be accepted.
“I love Oakstone with all my heart and the school literally changed my life, socially, mentally, and physically. You don’t see our level of inclusion in any other schools. They are a second family to me. Without Oakstone, I wouldn’t have the social skills I have today.” -12th grade student
Academic and Social Immersion does not stop at the classroom door. Students feel safe and accepted in extracurriculars and social events as well. Students step outside the box of their own interests and join clubs or teams that may be a stretch for them because they know the group will catch them if they fall. The success they feel during the school day extends to many different events.
While we adults who facilitate Academic and Social Immersion believe strongly in what we do, it’s the students who see the results and carry the model forward. Academic and Social Immersion is not a fad or an add-in. It is a powerful tool for building a school climate of acceptance, success, and confidence.