The stigma of being labeled a slow learner or special education student sometimes has an effect on the way pupils learn, in addition to how they get along with others, officials say.
Currently, special education pupils who are in the same classes as general education pupils have to leave at certain times of the day to attend special education classes.
Area educators are trying to change that by keeping certain special education pupils in the same class as general education pupils.
Professors in the education department at Augusta State University have received a $20,000 federal grant through the State Department of Education to instruct a group of graduate students and area principals on the best way to change the current special education model to one that's more inclusive.
The one-week program begins Saturday at the university. There, 50 graduate students and six principals -- four from Richmond County, one from McDuffie County and one from the Augusta Youth Development Center -- will study ways to make an inclusion program work.
"It boils down to how we can help the child succeed," said Paulette Harris, education professor at Augusta State. She and associate professor Alice Pollingue helped secure the grant.
"There is still a stigma of being labeled a special education student," Dr. Pollingue said. "If we're able to get them in a general setting, they will feel better about themselves because when they get out of special education and go out into the world, they won't be labeled anything. They will be one of `us."'
On Saturday, the program participants will hear from area schools already trying an inclusion model. Tubman Middle, Gracewood Elementary, Evans High and Harlem High are trying similar concepts.
"I really like the process because it keeps the special education students in the regular class room," said Marie Cooper-Draves, principal of Gracewood Elementary.
Gracewood began its program this year with three classes. A special education teacher and a general education teacher work in the same classroom, giving pupils the same curriculum. Slower learners receive additional help while still in the classroom.
"I've visited several classes in the state and couldn't pick out special education students from general education students because they were all participating," Mrs. Cooper-Draves said.
But with any program, there are drawbacks, Mrs. Cooper-Draves and Augusta State professors pointed out.
"The regular education and special education teacher are accustomed to having their own classroom," Mrs. Cooper-Draves said. "But they have to work together and learn to respect each other's skills."
Grading, scheduling, curriculum and discipline are things that still have to be worked out in Augusta State's model, Dr. Pollingue said.
Pupils at Tubman Middle School are breezing through the program -- which also started this year, with one class. The program is working so well that teachers say special education pupils have been making the honor roll.
"We think it's working wonderfully," said Aletha Snowberger, a general education teacher at Tubman Middle who works with special education teacher Rachel Anderson. "They've adjusted very well to the change."
Reach Faith Johnson at (706) 823-3765.