Godwin Heights — The 4-year-old students in the Godwin preschool class are excited to share about their friend Leland.
“I love to play LEGOs with him,” said one student.
“And Magna-Tiles,” piped in another student.
While Leland might be in a wheelchair, to the students he is just another classmate.
“During playtime, you will find him on the floor with the students just incorporating him into the activities,” said Alissa Hofstee, a supervisor of special education for Kent ISD Early Childhood and Integrated Supports.
This year, Godwin moved its early childhood special education program from West Godwin to Godwin Heights Early Education Center, formerly South Godwin Elementary. The goal is to have a community center that is inclusive so that any preschool student, whether they have a disability or are at-risk, feels as if they belong, Hofstee said.
“The benefits that it provides is that our students on a typical development path develop see all students regardless of ability as peers,” she said. “They develop compassion, social-emotional understanding of those who have differences, and a reduction in later years of other behaviors such as bullying.”
Building a Bridge to Understanding
A preschool classroom for 4-year-olds usually has about 16 students, with about 25-30% of them having special needs. Hofstee said the ratio reflects the percentage of the general population with health conditions such as a mental health diagnosis or physical challenge.
The number of teachers in a room depends on the needs of the students, but usually there is a lead teacher and an assistant.
“We have decades of research showing that high-quality preschool is effective in the prevention of needing special education services, the dropout rate, and other society needs such as incarceration,” Hofstee said.
A 2015 report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education cites a number of benefits for inclusion. They include children with disabilities having shown significant learning and developmental progress; greater cognitive and communicative development; and strong social-emotional skills. Students without disabilities have demonstrated better understanding of diversity along with greater compassion and empathy.
A Building Buzzing with Activity
With the addition of the early childhood special education program, the Godwin Heights Early Childhood Center now houses five programs: Kent ISD’s special education preschool program; the Great Start Readiness program; Bright Beginnings; the federally funded preschool program Head Start; and Godwin’s early childhood special education.
All 20 classrooms in the building are being used. Kent ISD’s and Godwin’s programs have 122 students in eight classrooms with 38 staff members. Head Start, which is run separately, is estimating about 206 students in 12 classrooms with 23 staff for the 2023-2024 school year.
“We are using the library as our offices,” said Hofstee, while Head Start is using the school’s main office for its program. “So we are using about every space we have in the building.”
By having all of the preschools in one building, the Early Education Center has been able to incorporate the district’s Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) program utilizing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS).
“Since the district’s mascot is wolverines and wolverines have cubs, we decided on the acronym CUB for our students,” Hofstee said, pointing to a school sign that spells out the meaning for each letter:
Care for our space, such as body to yourself and throw away trash.
Use kindness, such as body to yourself and quiet voices.
Be safe, such as move with controlled calm body and follow the friend in front of you.