Stacey Smith is an Oakland school district parent and volunteer who has served on the District GATE Advisory Committee, the school board’s Special Committee on School Based Management, and the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. What she writes about does not reflect the view of any group.
The woman next to me was immediately struck by a small body hurdling itself at her knees for a hug.
Christie Anderson, director of the Burbank Preschool Center, paused mid-sentence to disentangle and chat with the child (and a few others) before we continued our tour.
Moving from classroom to classroom I felt like this could be any preschool in Oakland. Parents were dropping off little ones. Teachers and aides were giving multi-lingual direction to students (Burbank families speak over 15 languages). The reading nook, the imagination corner, and the riot of colors and activities tempted me to just get right onto the floor and start playing. The children were totally engaged.
I did notice in one room a child was using an electronic board with pictures that the child would touch to communicate instead of using words. In another room a wheelchair was pushed up to the snack table with the other chairs. And in one classroom there was a nurse, always, because the students have such severe health impairments that there must be medical support available at all times.
This is what special education preschool looks like. At Burbank there are 14 different programs housed under one roof. The site also boasts a general education preschool program that provides the opportunity for students from different programs to learn with and socialize with their non-disabled peers, the Alameda County Infant/Toddler Prevention Program, and the district’s Diagnostic Center. (Some children are identified for special education between the ages of birth and age three and the Regional Center of the East Bay supports most of these students. The Diagnostic Center primarily works to support and identify children from age three and above who need special education.)
Early intervention for these children is critical. Early diagnosis and intervention reduces special education costs in the long run, and in some cases the need for special education services altogether. Ms. Anderson is still collecting the first few years’ worth of Burbank data as part of a long-range study that follows these students onward. But last year’s kindergarten-bound students all continued on to mainstream settings (in a general education classroom for at least part of the day or in a full inclusion program) and that’s quite a piece of data in itself.
Burbank has other programs too. It provides free sign language classes and autism support programs for parents and partners with Mills College’s teaching program. Ms. Anderson also proudly noted that Burbank was the only preschool in the district currently partnered with UC Berkeley’s Harvest of the Month program, which introduces a new vegetable into students’ diets each month. Of course, the center faces challenges too. Like any other school there is a need for ongoing community support and fundraising and I’ve heard some families raise concerns about increased class sizes this year impact that may have on a model so reliant on intensive support in a small group setting.
I asked Ms. Anderson why she thinks Burbank is so successful. Rather than brag she took the opportunity to remind me that there are 11 other “amazing” preschool special education programs in OUSD and they are all “stellar.” My visit, though, made me wonder if the reason folks rave about Burbank (literally people’s eyes light up) is in part because of the synergy that comes from having folks collaborating together under one roof.
Want to share the experience? Take a quick tour.
What has been your experience with Burbank or any of the other special education preschool programs in OUSD? Is there any other site in the district that uses a similar model for special education students?
Photo courtesy of Maya Mosley