We’re Learning Here: January 2023
Joseph Lee K-8 School
by Amika Kemmler-Ernst, Ed.D.
The first thing I notice when I arrive at the Joseph Lee K-8 School in Dorchester makes me smile: words for WELCOME painted on the entrance path in a variety of languages, from Portuguese to Polish to Vietnamese. The Lee serves 560 students in grades K0-8 and its full ABA strand for students with autism comprises 40% of the school’s population. This has resulted in a remarkably inclusive environment for all.
Sitting in a circle on the rug in Melissa Angelucci’s Integrated K0-K1 class, children are engaged in their morning meeting activities. As their teacher calls out names, children choose from among eight classroom jobs and move their photo card next to its picture. Next, another student moves around the circle with a pointer, gently tapping each of his classmates’ heads as he counts the number present — being reminded not to forget himself!
Third graders in Zakia Hunter‘s class are reading about Kenya, while those next door in Lou Harris‘s room are working on a variety of language arts activities. After listening to Kathryn Grimes read Esperanza Rising aloud, her fifth grade students break into small groups to read with one another.
Middle school students are making “Vision Board” collages in art class with Steven Wilbur, and theater teacher Hannah Santos is helping nonverbal children in an elementary ABA class to express themselves by moving their bodies to a music video. Later I find her on the stage floor behind a torn curtain, putting the finishing touches on a set created by fourth graders for a performance of Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood, a picture book by F. Isabel Campoy.
Sensory Arts teacher Chris Hall says that what he likes best about the Lee is its “proactive dedication to inclusion.” D.J. D’Ambrosio, a student at Mass College of Art who works with the three art teachers, adds that they keep every student in mind when planning units and differentiate instruction within their classes. Social Wellness specialist Andrea Livesey teaches almost every student in the school with a newly created class that focuses on social emotional learning skills.
Speech pathologist Sarah Dubrow says she appreciates the many support staff the ABA strand brings to the Lee. Let me know how YOUR school is creating an inclusive learning environment for students, and please invite me to visit!