Disston Elementary School, located at Knorr and Cottage Streets, in the Tacony/Wissinoming neighborhood of Philadelphia, is a four-story brick building. The school, K through 8, has a gym, auditorium, and library. There is also a computer lab, consumer education classroom, and a music room. The floors are organized by grade levels, starting with the lower grades on the first floor and working their way up the building. The ground floor, or basement, is reserved for specialty classes, such as music, etc. The school, built in the early 1900’s, has very few modern improvements, mainly because it is a historical landmark. There are no elevators or ramps making it inaccessible to those with walking disabilities or are wheelchair bound. The school, which has approximately 800 students and 40 teachers on staff, is maintained well and kept clean. The staff members I encountered at the school were well informed and professional. The neighborhood is predominately middle class, but does include some low-income families. In addition, about 15% of the students are bussed to Disston from neighborhoods that are at or below the poverty level.
The cooperating teacher, Ms. Bledy, was happy to share her classroom as well as her experiences. She provided a pleasant atmosphere and gave me the opportunity to observe her seventh grade science, mathematics, and social studies classes, and fifth grade reading and English classes, which she also instructed. Her seventh grade classes consist of 29 students and her fifth grade RELA (Reading/Language Arts) class consists of 25 students. Learner Differences
In the 7th grade class, there are 26 students with average or near-average ability and three students who have been identified with reading and math disabilities. These 3 students attend special classes for those subjects and return to Ms. Bledy for science and social studies. Ms. Bledy adapts the content in science and social studies according to each of the special education students’ I.E.P. (Individual Education Plan). Since all three students are at, or below a second grade reading level, Ms. Bledy uses the school library to find appropriate stories, books, or articles at each students grade level. She looks for material that is parallel, or as close as possible, to the content that is being covered in science and social studies. While lower grade level books have less detail, the teacher tries to provide the special education children with some reading material on the same or a related topic. For example, in a science class on metamorphosis, Ms. Bledy found a story called “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle. This grade 1 story, through pictures and words, shows the four life stages from an egg to a butterfly (Surprisingly, the students of average ability also enjoyed this 1st grade book). Ms. Bledy also provides daily hands-on and visual learning experiences for all her students; therefore she finds it easy to adapt lessons for the special education students mainstreamed into her classroom.
With the exception of the 3 special educations students, the remaining 26 students in Ms. Bledy’s math class are instructed on a 7th grade level. The teacher uses various visual, auditory, and hands-on learning techniques to adjust to each students learning style.
Disston School provides a “reading cycle” for 90 minutes each day from 10:15 to 11:45 a.m. During this time, students throughout the school change classes to attend reading and language arts at their ability levels. Ms. Bledy teaches level 5 reading, writing, and English. In this class, there is a mixture of 28 students from grades four through eight.
Within the groups of students I observed, there were no students with physical handicaps, nor did I observe anyone with severe emotional behavior differences. Ms. Bledy did inform me that 2 students receive the prescription drug Ritalin daily, administered either by the school nurse or...