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!

We were in the gym, waiting to play a game called “Pumpkin Patch”. We are learning how to throw a ball and how to work as a team.
Roland Mirabal’s K2 Inclusion class


I’m helping Henry (K0-K1 ABA) illustrate his feelings after listening to the “Scribble Spot” song from a story called, “A Little Spot of Feeling”. We’re learning about self-awareness and identifying emotions by color.
Andrea Livesey, Social Wellness Teacher


I was making words on a white board and Ms. B was helping me. I’m learning about letters and all kinds of things in math, like plusses and minuses.
Kenneth Ellison (Grade 2) & Erin Bernazzani, Resource Room Teacher


I am tapping out a word with Mr. Harris. We usually tap out words and then build them on our [Fundations] boards. I’ve been learning about rhyming words like pig and wig. When we have stations some people do Lexia, some people read books as a group, and some of us read silently.
Jaliyah Quinones, Grade 2

I am helping Asante (K1 ABA) paint a spaceship using the cool color green. In sensory arts class right now we are doing “space-themed art” and working on mixing primary colors to make secondary colors. Students are learning how to mix paint while experimenting with different brush strokes to create amazing works of art!
Chris Hall, Sensory Arts Teacher


I was working with Ms. Staci. She said a word out loud and I pointed to it on the whiteboard. I am learning letter sounds and how words are put together.
Noah Afework, Grade 6 ABA & Staci Gleason, Paraprofessional


304 I am writing about Nina Simone and Ms. Daly is helping me. I learned that Nina Simone was a famous African American singer who stood up for social justice. When her parents weren’t allowed to sit in the front row, she refused to perform. Kelly Nguyen, Grade 8 & Jennifer Talbot, ABA Strand Specialist


I was taking notes on a lesson in English class and Ms. Lam was translating for me because I am learning a new language in a new country. I just arrived from the Dominican Republic and this is a new stage in my life. I am meeting new people and making new friends — everything is new to me!
In this class we are learning how to answer questions about what we read by using “claim, evidence, and reasoning”. I’ve learned that a claim is a statement of your opinion, reasoning is what you think about it, and evidence is how to support your answer.
Dahyanara Muñoz Santana, Grade 7