Carmen Naz is a kindergarten special education teacher at Achievement First Iluminar Mayoral Academy.
I have lived in Rhode Island all my life. I know that misconceptions can spread. I know what some may be thinking about charter schools and their special education population.
During public comment on the Achievement First expansion, I shared my experiences and my special education caseload as a kindergarten inclusion teacher at Achievement First Iluminar Mayoral Academy, in Providence. I was followed by speakers who claimed our school doesn’t have kids with special education needs — as if my comments, and my experience, did not exist or were not valid. This angers me.
My anger is personal, and not just because it is my job to teach the children they claim we do not teach. My passion comes from my brother, who was born with Down syndrome and later diagnosed with autism. He is 16 now.
We have been through a lot with him. He has been to district schools where he has been served well, but also district schools where he was not served. He has been denied education. He has been blamed for his challenges. All schools can struggle to work with children who have different needs and challenges.
The claim that districts serve students with disabilities well and charters do not is fiction, and it makes me furious. I would never work at a school that did not serve students with special education needs.
Every day, I walk into my Hartford Avenue classroom and see 28 amazing students. One-third of them require special education services, with two of my students having some of the highest needs in the school.
My students’ disabilities vary, and at our school they receive a variety of services, including counseling, physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Some of them receive additional English language learning support. One of my students also has a paraprofessional. And they are all succeeding. They receive all of the instruction that everyone in the class does, and then they are split off into smaller groups to get what they need.
One of my students was diagnosed with a speech delay and he did not speak beyond two-word phrases at the beginning of the year. Now, because of the support he gets here and at home, he just passed a Step 3. That means he’s reading on the same grade level as his peers.
Much has been said about Achievement First’s high standards, and we do set a high bar. When all of my students get 100 percent on their weekly math quiz — as they did the other day — that is a huge indicator that we are serving our students, especially children with additional needs, very well. Our students are capable of much, and they are making many gains.
I wish this school had existed when my brother was younger. If he had started out here, Achievement First would have done everything possible for him. He would have succeeded in his early days, just like my students.
People who claim we do not serve students who require special education services should come and see my classroom, where I do this work every day. I work hard. I work relentlessly. To claim this is not happening is to invalidate my hard work and, more importantly, the progress and successes of my awesome students.
This article originally appeared in the Providence Journal.