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Hanby's inclusiveness provides an education

Joyce Rogers said that beginning with her daughter's first day of kindergarten, it was important she be included in a traditional classroom environment.

Now 14, Rogers' daughter Ariel, who was born with Down syndrome, spends more than 80 percent of her day in mainstream classes with her peers at Hanby Middle School in Gold Hill.

"We really wanted an inclusive program from day one," said Rogers. "And she is doing what every other kid is doing."

Hanby Middle School was recognized by the DSASO earlier this month with an Inclusion Excellence Award for its work with students such as Ariel.

Rogers, who works as a reading specialist for the Down Syndrome Association of Southern Oregon, said that her daughter spends each day in the classroom as any other teenager would, a practice that isn't as common in neighboring school districts.

"I can't imagine not running a school this way," said Scott Dippel, Hanby's principal.

Dippel said that while he believes all schools likely make an effort to integrate students with intellectual disabilities into mainstream classrooms, the effort isn't always simple.

"It does at times take a lot of work, and faith," said Dippel. "Some parents are hesitant."

Dippel said Ariel's case was the perfect combination of willing parents and an inclusive school that trusted Ariel would be comfortable in a regular classroom.

"The association told us we were very unique," said Dippel.

Children with Down syndrome are born with 47 chromosomes instead of 46, with the extra chromosome causing a variety of problems with body and brain development.

Ariel spends most of the day in regular classes, and is pulled into a resource room for extra help with math each day, according to Rogers.

Teachers give Ariel modified course work for some assignments, but she participates in classroom lectures and completes work for the same subjects as other students.

Once in high school, Ariel likely will pursue a modified diploma, which would recognize her adjusted coursework when she graduates.

Hanby was recognized by the DSASO in part for the way they effortlessly integrate students like Ariel, according to DSASO Executive Director Audra McMurray.

"They made the inclusion process so simple," said McMurray. "That was refreshing."

Although Ariel is the only student with Down syndrome at Hanby, she is one of many students at the school, and 600 districtwide, who have an Individualized Education Plan.

Students can be given an IEP for anything that might have an adverse impact on learning, ranging from communication disorders such as a speech impediments to severe intellectual disabilities.

Though spending time in a mainstream classroom setting was deemed best for Ariel, not all students would benefit the same way, according to Brock Rowley, special education director for the Central Point School District.

Rowley said depending on the student and their needs, some children are best suited to stay in a self-contained classroom or receive home tutoring.

When it is suitable for a student to be in a mainstream classroom, it is always encouraged, Rowley said.

Of the 600 students with an IEP in the district, the vast majority spend more than 80 percent of each school day in a mainstream classroom. Rowley said Central Point schools exceed the state's target for amount of time that students with an IEP spend in mainstream classes.

"That's our whole mission," Rowley said.

Dippel said he is proud of the way that students have accepted Ariel, welcoming her in the classroom and treating her with respect.

"There's so much in the press about bullying and students excluding each other and we don't see that at all," said Dippel. "I've been very impressed and proud of the students."

Now in the eighth grade, Ariel will attend Crater High School next year, a transition Dippel thinks will go smoothly because of Ariel's experiences so far.

"She's going to high school with a lot more confidence," said Dippel. "She's definitely comfortable."

Rogers thinks that because of her daughter's inclusion in school, she has the opportunity to succeed in the "real world."

"She is going to be an independent woman some day," said Rogers.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.

Hanby Middle School 8th grader Ariel Rogers, left, and her friend Theresa Fernandez, 7th grade, head off to a basketball game after school Monday. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell