Research emphasizes that strong early learning programs dictate future academic success for all students. On March 25, at Green Acres Recreational Center on Main Street in Fairfax, Halley Elementary School teachers Rebecca Bailey and Joni Smith received the Exemplary Inclusive Practice Award from Fairfax County Preschool Division of Early Childhood Education. The honor recognized their efforts to provide their preschool students with a classroom environment that meets their unique academic needs and prepares them as respectful and empathetic citizens of diverse learning communities.
At Halley, Ms. Bailey and Ms. Smith lead the Early Childhood Inclusive Program (ECIP). Bailey is the team’s FECEP (Family and Early Childhood Education Program) and Head Start teacher, while Smith serves as Early Childhood Special Education Teacher. Together, they support 21 students (their program can have a maximum of 24), about two-thirds of whom qualify as FECEP/Head Start students and one-third of whom receive special education services.
Both teachers are certified to teach general education and special education students, but in their current roles, Bailey is responsible for implementing the general education Pre-K curriculum for all students. Meanwhile, Smith ensures that students in the classroom with special needs receive the accommodations, modifications, and adaptations, as well as related services, indicated on their individual education plans (IEPs). The pair works closely together, calling themselves “JoBecca,” and their roles overlap and intersect in every part of their day. For example, Bailey gives input on IEP goals and accommodations while Smith helps plan general curriculum activities.
With a combined total of 16 years’ experience teaching in Fairfax County, Smith and Bailey were nominated for the Exemplary Inclusive Practice Award by colleagues, Elizabeth Egbert and Heather Temple, as well as assistant principal, Matt Salerno. The award was presented by the Inclusion Program Opportunities for Preschoolers (IPOP) Committee and is granted to both Fairfax County Public School preschool teachers and community preschool teachers. This year, a team from Bonnie Brae Elementary School and one from the Main Street Child Development Center also received the award.
Jamey Chianetta, Halley’s principal, notes that Smith and Bailey “excel in their knowledge, practice, and influence in preschool education. They are leaders in their classroom and in our school community, who model student-first education, collaboration, and a ‘whatever-it-takes’ attitude.”
Smith and Bailey feel the most rewarding aspect of their work is “creating an environment in which students with IEPs are given the opportunity to achieve at the same level as their typically developing peers.”
They believe high quality early childhood education “reduce(s) the risk of educational failure for students with identified special needs and those who are considered at risk.” They are passionate about the inclusive classroom as they recognize its benefits to young students: a chance for students with special needs to learn with and from their peers in the general education curriculum, the opportunity for all students to “(develop) respect, empathy, and acceptance” of peers who are different from them, and “lifetime skills and confidence to protect the rights of themselves and others.”
Future goals for the award-winning team include continuing to support colleagues to understand exemplary inclusive practices, promoting inclusive programs throughout Fairfax County, and improving their own skills to provide “high quality early childhood education to all students.”