You may have seen the reports on the state of special education in Seattle public schools on KUOW and the Seattle Times. Recently, League of Education Voters staff visited the Experimental Education Unit (EEU) at the University of Washington. Housed in the Norris and Dorothy Haring Center along with the CARE Clinic and the Applied Research Unit, the EEU is the service unit of the center, providing an education to hundreds of preschool and kindergarten students. There are a few things about the EEU that separates them from a typical school:
1.) The name of the game at the EEU is inclusiveness. That is why most of the classroom are blended, meaning they are evenly split between students with disabilities and typically developing students. To observe an EEU classroom is to see children of all abilities, learning and playing side by side. During the tour, EEU Principal Chris Matsumoto told a story about his daughter asking questions about a classmate with special needs. In the end, his daughter decided that they could be friends because of their shared interest in babies, the color pink, and dolls. For Principal Matsumoto’s daughter and many other students at the EEU, “ability doesn’t get in the way of friendship.”
2.) The number of adults you will find in the classroom. In the classes that we observed, there was a head teacher, a classroom assistant, and a speech therapist. Since research plays such a significant role at EEU, there was also a grad student and a practicum student. This allows for students to have much more one-on-one time with their teachers when they need it.
3.) The way in which students are placed at the EEU. The EEU has contracts with Seattle Public Schools, the Department of Developmental Disabilities, and the City of Seattle to provide services for children around King County. There are five different education programs:
- The Infant and Toddler Program (ITP) which works with children of all abilities from birth to three.
- Preschool which is a half day program for children of all abilities ages three to five.
- Project Data (Developmentally Appropriate Treatment for Autism) which is an extended day program for students with autism. Children in this class spend half of their day in a one-on-one or one-on-two setting with a teacher and the other half of the day in a blended classroom.
- ECEAP (Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program) which is a training program for Head Start/ECEAP teachers to work with children (mostly four year olds) who have moderate or severe disabilities.
- Kindergarten which is full day blended class.
4.) Training and Outreach. The EEU preschool school year starts two weeks after Seattle Public Schools so that EEU teachers can meet with public school kindergarten teachers. These meetings ensure that students who are transitioning from the EEU to a typical public school have all the support they need. We also learned that half of all Seattle preschool teachers trained in special education trained at the EEU. Teachers and staff from the EEU are also frequently invited to train other educators, special education and non-special education alike.
The Director of the EEU, Ilene Schwartz, hopes that with more funding and awareness, the EEU will be able to move in to a larger building and offer more classes. As she says, “inclusion for all.”
More information on the Experimental Education Unit can be found here.