Inclusionary education, the practice of including children both with and without disabilities in school-related settings, is becoming increasingly common in early education programs across the country.
United Cerebral Palsy’s affiliate in Tampa Bay Florida, UCP of Tampa Bay, is way ahead of the curve. Opened in 1992, their inclusionary childhood development center began as an alternative to institutionalization that gave parents of children with special needs, as well as their siblings, a convenient, structured preschool program.
25 years later, the program has blossomed into a NAC accredited developmental preschool, with a five star quality designation from the Quality Counts for Kids Program, which serves over 150 children each year. In the words of Laura White, the Executive Director of UCP of Tampa Bay, “The value of this program lies in allowing children with special needs and their siblings alike to be in a classroom setting together that builds a sense of mutual understanding and inclusion that leads to better outcomes for everyone.” Laura sees the program as an early preparation for the mainstream school system and a powerful way for young siblings to interact with other siblings as well as other children with unique needs.
In addition to the preschool program, UCP of Tampa Bay offers an inclusionary after-school program in which school aged children with disabilities and their age-appropriate (up to 8 years old) siblings are bused from school to the program, making pick-ups far easier for working parents. The program incorporates educational and occupational, physical, and speech therapies for those with special needs until they reach the age of 21. The facility features a fully accessible playground, with a wheelchair accessible swing, and a specialty decking that makes falls safer and aids accessibility. Laura estimates that, over the years, these inclusionary programs have served over two thousand children and over a thousand families.
Special thanks to Laura White, Executive Director of UCP of Tampa Bay.
To find out more about UCP of Tampa Bay and their programs, please visit their website at www.ucptampa.org.