Ichche Dana Inclusive School
Why open a school?
The girls attended outside schools for seven years. On 20 November 2013 we withdrew them from school and the next day began the classes of Ichche Dana Inclusive School. The short answer to why is that the girls had given up on themselves. Any hopes for a better future were gone. The system had beaten them down. For these children who had been severely abused and abandoned, conventional schooling didn’t work. They were socially ostracized at different times and at different schools by peers, parents, and teachers. The accepted level of harshness, particularly the verbal abuse, cut them to their core sense of identity and in their minds confirmed their lack of worth. An educational system built upon memorization without context as well as their heightened “fight or flight” response interfered in their ability to integrate
information into a useable knowledge base. Something had to be done.
What did we do?
- We created Ichche Dana Inclusive School within our home with plans to expand it at sometime in the future.
- It would be inclusive, meaning that children of all levels of abilities and disabilities would be educated within our school framework. Some classes would be together, some separate and we would learn from the experience how to make it work over time. Our experience of our inclusive living had demonstrated the real benefits to the abled as well as the differently-abled girls.
- We would set our priorities to meet our goals of having girls educated to each one’s highest potential, within an environment of safety, encouragement, and learning.
Create a safe and inclusive environment
- Focus on thinking, not memorizing
- Build the girls ownership of their futures
- Individualize teaching plans according to needs, interests, and abilities of
- Encourage curiosity
- Build on success
Return to basics
- Focus on basic reading, writing, oral expression and comprehension. We believe that if our students could read and write they could continue to learn throughout their lifetimes.
- Raise the bar of success but repeat and repeat assignments until they are done well.
- Require successful learning as criteria for advancement.
- Give structure to learning strategies for academic, vocational and life skills. Teach them to organize ideas and analyze what was being taught.
- Develop foundation of basic mathematics and understanding concepts of numbers in abstract and practical ways.
Project-based and interdisciplinary learning
Part of relieving the tension of learning as memorization, is the strategy of learning using projects. A project is often centered around a field trip. It includes study of the subject and preparation before the trip; observation and experience on the trip; coming home to put the knowledge together; and then doing presentations where each child developes an area and presents it in a school assembly.
An example of the project-based learning was a trip to the botanical gardens:
- Study of the map and the areas of trees representing different parts of India, as well as other countries. Then making maps of India and a world map to represent these places.
- Study of the shapes of trees, trunk/bark characteristics and leaf colors.
- The children, including our girls who are differently-abled, went, bringing along wheelchairs and an iPad. The iPad was used by one of the challenged girls who can take pictures, and with instruction type the tree’s name on the picture. For the able-bodied students the trip was about learning, and for the others it was about being out in the world and participating in life. The girls explored the park, now partly familiar because of their study about many of the trees. A park guide took us through and had stories about many of the trees. We saw the Great Banyan tree and had fun pushing wheelchairs through the forest.
- An assembly was held two weeks later, giving the girls the opportunity to compile information and pictures and to reflect on their experience and what they learned. They set up the projector, screen and the computers necessary for the Power Point presentation. They used assistive communication, including the Tobii Eye Tracker, also on computers attached to the projector. The student who took pictures used Widgit symbol language to present the pictures and what they represented.
Subjects required and strengthened by this project:
- Reading, geography, science, writing, and speaking. Learning about sizes and distances and required math skills.
We continue to develop and adjust criteria and practices for maintaining an inclusive and functional curriculum. We consult with educators, researchers, and other experts on inclusion.
Use of technology
Computers are used across disciplines giving the experiences relevant to today’s work needs.
- The concept of the flipped classroom as developed by Khan Academy is employed in all areas of learning. The children learn on their own by computer and then the teacher helps them with what they do not understand.
- We use e-learning through online programs that allow children to work on their own, while the program gives constant assessment of their progress to the teachers. We use the K5 Learning that has helped build basic skills. We also use Widgit symbol language for the girls unable to read.
- Skype and similar applications permitting instruction from abroad and from other parts of India are employed.
- Computers are for opportunities to do research for information beyond textbooks for projects, interests, articles, and information (with limits on internet sites).
- We work with multimedia to manage projectors, screens, and audio speakers to utilize for presentations.
- Skill building on common office programs and email (with restrictions).
The Tobii Eye Tracker allows the girls with severe disabilities to communicate via computer. Ichche Dana was the first customer of Tobii in India, and we now have two Eye Trackers for some of our students to use.