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Anthony Ridgely Third Grade Teacher, Fenn Elementary Inclusion Teacher of the Year 2019-2020

The first quality that Anthony Ridgley has that makes him an exemplary inclusion teacher is his attitude of acceptance. Teachers are expected to have students of all abilities included in their classrooms, including those with Intensive Needs.   This population tends to be small in number, and typically not more than one such student will be placed in a classroom at a time, due to the demands of specialized programming, meeting IEP requirements, coordination of ancillary services, and interactions with support personnel. It can feel overwhelming to a regular classroom teacher, who is already meeting the diverse needs of the typical students on his or her roster.   This year Anthony Ridgley has had four students with Intensive Needs as part of his class.  Three students have autism, and one has Down Syndrome.  Each student spends the majority if not the totality of their day in the regular classroom.  While many regular education teachers might have been wary of such a high number of students with such a high degree of need being placed in their classroom,  Anthony's initial response was, "No problem."   No matter what the Intervention Specialist throws at him---sudden parent visits or observations by outside services, last-minute changes in support staff, last-minute meetings, changes in schedules, extra copies of materials, modified work or materials, bulky equipment or adaptive tools---Anthony always responds with a cheerful, "no problem."  That kind of cheerful cooperation is consistently displayed and makes all things able to be accomplished.

     Another quality that Anthony has is his ability to adapt.  He adapts his lessons with modified tasks, pre-printed notes, and graphic organizers, condensing material into smaller, most pertinent chunks of information.  He willingly uses visual aides and incorporates strategies and methods that will enhance the learning experience of those students who need multiple modalities to learn.  This is done smoothly without unnecessary attention to the differences; the classroom operates with the understanding that "everyone gets what they need to learn".

     A third quality that Anthony has is his ability to spot teachable moments for the hardest to teach.  He is always alert to opportunities to draw the reluctant, avoidant, or most hard to include students, finding ways to help them overcome their anxieties or fears to participate.  He has been able to bolster a student with selective mutism into being brave enough to join classroom discussions.  He has incorporated texts, photos, and Blackboard symbols into morning meetings so that a student with very low verbal skills can comfortably share about her weekend.  He has been able to decipher the scripted speech of a student with autism to determine what she is really trying to say and then build on that.  He has been able to emotionally support another student with autism who was distraught and "brokenhearted" that a special friend was now seated elsewhere, and to calm him when his obsession with "black holes in space" had him so upset he was physically ill.

     These qualities that Anthony displays all day, every day, are consistent models for the typical children, and even adults, that these students are valued and included just as they are.  The typical students are invested in their non-typical peers, and this is seen on a daily basis as they work together in an atmosphere of inclusion and friendship.  Anthony Ridgley is the best example of someone deserving of the Inclusion Teacher award.