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Goncalves ’09 Making Strides in Special Education at Dorchester School

Making Strides in Special Education at Dorchester SchoolEvery day, Kristen Goncalves ’09 leaves work inspired. As a third-grade general education teacher at the Dr. William Henderson Inclusion School in Dorchester, Mass., she engages in a unique approach to education with students from diverse ethnic, linguistic and ability backgrounds. As an inclusive school, students who have disabilities are not pulled out of the classroom to receive specialized instruction, but learn alongside their nondisabled peers. In her classroom, Goncalves collaborates with a full-time special education teacher, as well as with other support staff including speech pathologists, occupational therapists and physical therapists, all of whom tailor the curriculum to accommodate the specific learning needs of each student.

“Not only are we teaching all students, but we are creating a much more accepting culture of individuals,” Goncalves said. “My work at the Henderson has made me quite passionate about the field of special education, namely inclusive practices. The term ‘inclusion’ is used often in many schools, but true inclusion, where all students of all abilities are learning in one classroom, is hard to find.”

The Henderson School partners with Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, working with professors and graduate students to research best practices in education. Goncalves has studied the Principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and recently took a course on implementing inclusive education, during which she specifically researched practices surrounding UDL in mathematics and English language arts.

As a result of her research, the school has changed the way they teach these subjects and has developed a station-based workshop model of learning, in which students are taught in small groups and rotate through a set of three or four stations, including a teacher-directed station, an independent station that features an interactive game or a hands-on activity, and a technology based-station. Goncalves is the math facilitator in her building and leads monthly meetings and professional development discussions with the Henderson’s staff to ensure they are incorporating UDL principals into their mathematics instruction.

Wanting to be a teacher for as long as she can remember, Goncalves chose Emmanuel for her undergraduate education because of its strong Elementary Education program and noted that the strong ties to Boston public schools gave her several opportunities to intern in many different schools.

“Emmanuel's dedicated education staff prepared me for the most up-to-date practices in elementary education,” she said. “This made my transition from undergraduate studies to working professionally in the city seamless. I now enjoy receiving interns from Emmanuel's education program and find that the program is maintaining its work in teaching best practices in an ever-evolving profession.”

Last February, Goncalves was a recipient of the Sontag Prize in Urban Education, which is awarded twice a year in recognition of successful urban educators, and received her master’s in special education from Northeastern University in 2012. She is currently looking toward another degree in a master’s or doctoral program and hopes to help more schools successfully implement inclusive education, the benefits of which she “could talk about for days.”

“One of the most rewarding experiences I have had is when parents of a child with a disability discuss genuine friendships that have been fostered with their nondisabled peers in my classroom,” she said. “Every day I am so inspired by my own students sitting in front of me.”