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January 21, 2021

Are certain students in your program at greater risk of being frozen out of their best possible educational experiences? Last summer, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs published infographics that reveal non-white students (broken out both by American Indian or Alaska Native, as well as Black or African American) with disabilities were at greatest disadvantage. By some measures, this disparity was exponential, and based on 2018 figures when virtual learning hadn’t yet had an impact. It’s important to remember that comparisons in these infographics contrast minority populations with overall figures, which means the contrast with white counterparts is even greater. Consider these specifics:

  • In 2018, Black or African American children comprised 13.8% of the population of ages 6-21. Yet, in the school year 2018-19, 17.89% of school-age children with disabilities in the U.S. were Black or African American.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native students with disabilities had a 25% dropout rate between the ages of 14 and 21, as compared with the overall dropout rate of 16% of students with disabilities.
  • Whereas 29 of 100 students with disabilities are likely to be removed for disciplinary reasons, that number increases to 65 for Black or African American students with disabilities.
  • Both populations enjoyed less time in mainstream classrooms than the overall population of students with disabilities.

Using Y4Y’s new Including Students With Disabilities course, consider how your program can melt away learning barriers for students with disabilities. Engage in the full course to better familiarize yourself with the laws and regulations that apply to these students and to develop ideas on shaping your culture and specific activities. But make special note of the tools mentioned below, which have direct application to these disheartening statistics.

Tap into existing information about individual learning needs. You may or may not have access to an individualized education program (IEP) to give you insights into how exactly your student might learn differently, for example. Don’t be afraid to ask for it, using Y4Y’s customizable Sample Letter for IEP Access. Get up to speed on understanding how to read these documents using Y4Y’s Common IEP Sections and Common Acronyms tools.

Engagement is key to reducing the dropout rate. This is true in the school day and even more so in your 21st CCLC program. Y4Y has many great resources for keeping students engaged, including a new Recruiting and Retaining High School Students Click & Go micro-learning module. You may need to modify or adapt some of the tools within this Click & Go, using tips from the Including Students With Disability course. But always remember that your students with disabilities can and should be surveyed for their interests and strengths, consulted to develop an individual student development plan, and offered leadership opportunities.

Behavior is communication. This was never truer than it is with students whose disabilities are likely to impact how effectively they can verbalize what they’re feeling or experiencing. Every student deserves to be heard. Staff can benefit greatly from the Understanding and Responding to Students With Disabilities Training to Go. This PowerPoint can be adapted to a virtual learning opportunity, where staff can collaborate about current and future students, and develop practices and skills that support students in inclusive out-of-school environments. Knowledge gained about how best to keep your students in the least restrictive environment can easily carry over into the school day when your partnerships are strong.

Did you know that abolitionist Harriet Tubman had epilepsy that resulted from childhood beatings to the head by her master during her years of enslavement? The poet Maya Angelou experienced five years of trauma-induced selective mutism. Olympic athlete Wilma Rudolph overcame infantile paralysis. Award-winning singer Harry Belafonte was profoundly dyslexic, causing him to drop out of high school. These amazing figures did not allow themselves to be frozen for life behind the barriers of disability, but understood the astonishing contributions they could make. You can be the advocate that sees in each of your students that exceptionalism is everywhere, and do your part to offer a warm welcome to all.