Vital need sparked a new approach to inclusive early learning
Katrina Caron, Director of Early Learning at Northwest Center’s Chinook location, gets the calls all the time.
“Parents will have a child with a special need and they can’t find care anywhere. Or their child is going to be kicked out of their preschool. Or the current school is not meeting their child’s needs. I have to say, ‘I’m really sorry, but I have to put you on our waitlist’ when we can’t take more children.”
This frustrating problem eventually sparked an idea on the Northwest Center Kids team: what if, instead of turning children away from inclusive early learning at Northwest Center, we took inclusive early learning to the region’s other nearly 600 preschools? The IMPACTeam™, the first program of its kind in the region, will do just that when it launches this year.
The vision for the IMPACTeam™ is simple: Northwest Center Kids educators and therapists will provide training for staff at other local preschools, so that they are equipped to care for children of all abilities.
According to Caron, making a preschool inclusive isn’t as daunting as it may seem. “A lot of teachers are open to it,” she says. She allows that “It can be a scary concept to do medical-type things like a feeding tube or know the child might have a seizure. But the truth is, that’s a risk that you accept when you care for any child. The IMPACTeam™ will show other schools how easy and beneficial inclusion can be.”
Rachel is one mom who understands the power of inclusion. Her son Owen was abruptly kicked out of his preschool when he was 2. The school offered little outdoor play time, and Owen “had a lot of energy, a need for running, playing,” Rachel says. “The day we got asked to leave, he was headbutting the wall of the school out of frustration. They told me, ‘He may have a learning disability,’ and gave us a list of inclusive schools, and Northwest Center was at the top of the list.”
When Rachel and Owen toured the Chinook school the next day, it dawned on her just how bad his previous experience had been. When they were being welcomed into the Northwest Center Kids office, she recalls, “The minute he heard ‘office,’ Owen started crying. He was two years old, and he had been sent to the office at his previous school so many times.”
But Owen quickly warmed to Chinook. “He immediately started playing, didn’t want to leave,” Rachel remembers. “I stood in the indoor playroom and just cried.”
Owen stayed with Northwest Center for two years. Today he is happily enrolled in kindergarten, where he is hitting all the milestones for children his age. It’s the vision of the IMPACTeam™ that someday soon more children like Owen will be able to thrive from the moment they enter preschool.
“There is a huge amount of kids out there who aren’t being served as well as they could,” Caron says. “That’s something the IMPACTeam™ can change.”
Join us for The Derby on April 28 and help raise $100,000 to launch the IMPACTeam™. Buy tickets and learn more at nwcenter.org/derby.
Northwest Center is passionate about equal rights, anti-ableism, and full inclusion for people with disabilities. Thank you for reading.