Visiting the Manning Elementary School was like coming home – it’s where I spent the last ten years of my teaching career before becoming a New Teacher Developer. The Manning is tucked into a hidden corner of Jamaica Plain near the Faulkner Hospital, serving only 158 students this year.

With one classroom for each grade level, K1-5, the Manning has a richly deserved reputation for its full inclusion of students with significant emotional or behavioral impairments. Each class has a size maximum (26 students in grades 2-5) with two teachers and a paraprofessional and is split into two groups for back-to-back specialty classes. Second grade teacher Shannon Windus says the small student-teacher ratio “allows students to feel successful academically while building empathy, compassion, and a strong sense of community among all students.” This is how to make inclusion work!

On the day I visited, fourth and fifth graders began with specialists. Grade 5 students had PE/Library, while Grade 4 had Art/Science. Art class uses a third of the school’s cafetorium, where students were drawing spiders or finishing their “stained glass” web designs. Before they began, art teacher Leesa Kurtz Stolbach had them stretching their arms out to imagine the position of a spider’s eight legs! In science, Russell Springer was helping fourth graders research and draw different kinds of reptiles. When they left, he brought out four large bird nests for his first graders to examine.

During Literacy Block, the third grade class was reading aloud Hallowe’en poems posted on charts around their meeting area, as Maria Karloutsos shared stories of where she learned them and why they were special to her. Later students made lists of the kinds of books they like to read, while Michelle Scansaroli worked with a small group of students who needed extra support in a separate room.

Children in Corey Lubin’s K0-K1 class eagerly shaped playdough and worked at other activity centers, while Kristin Chaplin and para Cassie Alexander-Zack led their K2 students in a lively song and dance to help them learn the sounds of every letter in the alphabet! First grade teacher Juli Rice led a guided reading group, while her para Kimberly Herry helped the rest of the class with word study activities. Across the hall, second graders worked independently on solving addition and subtraction problems.

The small library is well-stocked thanks to an annual grant from the Faulkner. Librarian Patti Cahill buys books to be shared at monthly “birthday book” assemblies in honor of each student and staff member. This school tradition, begun years ago, contributes to the sense of community and shared responsibility that make the Manning a very special place.

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Amika Kemmler-Ernst, Ed.D.