Co-teaching is one of the growing trends in education and the Newton Community School District has seemingly been ahead of the curve on the process.
At Monday’s Newton Community School Board of Education meeting, teachers, who participate in the co-teaching program at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, gave the board a presentation on the program and its benefits.
“Here at TJ, co-teaching, to us, is when there’s a general ed and special ed teacher in the same classroom,” TJ third-grade special education teacher Lucinda Sinclair said.
“They are equal partners, there is no, ‘No, this is my classroom,’ this is our classroom,” TJ second-grade special education teacher Barbara Hackworth added.
Co-teachers create lesson plans, attend parent teacher conferences, grade and monitor student progress as a team.
Thomas Jefferson has one co-teaching team for every grade level and the teams vary in experience, co-teaching together. Lisa Pageler and Marla Cory co-teach a kindergarten class and are in their first year together.
Nicole Lequia and Kristi Peters co-teach a first-grade class and are also in their first year co-teaching together. Hackworth and Mellisa Sommars have been co-teaching second-graders for three years and Sinclair and Megan Frehse are in their fourth year of co-teaching third grade together at Thomas Jefferson.
“I feel personally — this is my 30th year teaching special ed in this district — that I’ve gotten experience about what doesn’t work,” Hackworth said. “Believe me, I’ve got horror stories. I feel like we’ve done so much the last couple of years … many changes and I really feel that we are on the right track and that our ‘now’ is starting to work. We are seeing results and all kinds of great things.”
Hackworth said that, over her years teaching, she has seen the stigmas other students and parents previously associated with special education students and how many of the methods used in the past had lower success rates in teaching students than the current co-teaching model has shown.
The pairs of teachers each presented the board with math and reading data from their classrooms and compared it to both building and district data from the same grade level.
A majority of the data the teachers showcased to the board showed that co-teaching was effective in raising math and reading scores. Math and reading data, from all grade levels, was either directly at the district’s median levels, slightly above, or just below in a few categories.
In addition to raising scores, the teachers believe giving special education students more exposure to general education classrooms helps them gain more knowledge of the Common Core curriculum.
“In my special ed classroom back then, basically, there was no curriculum,” Hackworth said. “It was whatever I could come up with and typically, it was not research based. It was not the same curriculum across industry, it was what can we find or whatever.”
The teachers also cited the social benefits of intermingling general education and special education students. They said a lot of the students don’t know they are special education students or that their classmates are special education students.
“They (special education students) get invited to social events outside of the school,” Cory said. “A parent came to me and she was so excited because her child had never been invited to a birthday party before ever.”
Frehse also pointed out that having a mixture of students in the classroom benefits Talented and Gifted students as its gives them real-world experience in working with various groups.
“I just want to say thank you all very much and this is a wealth of information that answers a lot of questions that I’ve had over the years on how you guys are making this program grow,” board member Nat Clark said. “To see the group of you so enthusiastic about (co-teaching) and to hear the stories about how well the students are doing, it’s really wonderful.”
Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.