Haring Center

The University of Washington Haring Center for Inclusive Education provides early childhood education to children with and without disabilities, conducts leading-edge research to advance inclusive learning, and trains education professionals in proven practices to develop every child’s potential. The essential support of our generous donors creates inclusive communities that empower all children to learn, play and grow together.

It is a pivotal time for advancing new discoveries in early learning and we are working to chart a course for the future. Together, we will ensure that children with disabilities receive the best foundation for a lifetime of learning and infinite possibilities. Together, we will build a boundless future. For children, for Washington, for the world.

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      “I am always looking to continue my learning around the idea of inclusion — trying to define what that looks like and how I can be a part of fostering that in my school community,” says Andrea Bergan, a family support worker at John Rogers Elementary in Northeast Seattle. Bergan was among more than 175 educators from across Washington state who attended the 2021 Summer Inclusion Institute held on June 22-24 and organized by the UW Haring Center for Inclusive Education. Delivered virtually, this free interactive conference brought educator teams together to discuss, demonstrate and dive into practices for creating inclusive and equitable communities as schools begin to reopen this fall. Mornings were spent in conference sessions led by specialists from the Haring Center while afternoons were reserved for guided planning time — where teams had the opportunity to develop action plans, review resources and create systems to support equitable and inclusive work. Funds from a grant supporting an Inclusionary Practices Project spearheaded by Haring Center Project Director Cassie Martin allowed the center to provide free admission to the summer institute as well as a toolkit that was sent to all participants. Included in the toolkit were three books: Leading Equity-Based MTSS for All Students by Amy McCart and Dawn Miller; Antiracism and Universal Design for Learning by Andratesha Fitzgerald; and Flexible and Focused: Teaching Executive Functioning Skills to Individuals with Autism and Attention Disorders by Adel Najdowski. “With support from the OSPI, we were able to gather educators from across the state who were interested in learning more about how to welcome their students back to schools by implementing equity-based inclusive practices,” says Dr. Ilene Schwartz, faculty director of the Haring Center. “Every activity — from our motivational keynote opening to the story slam at the end — provided educators with opportunities to learn about evidence-based instructional practices and strategies to build school communities that welcome and support all students, families and staff.” “I’ve been making my way through the books from the toolkit, and I hope to use them to spur discussion with my colleagues,” shares Bergan. “I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to participate and receive these materials.” A new approach to participation Bergan attended the institute with two of her colleagues from John Rogers — a practice encouraged by the Haring Center. “We wanted to focus on the importance of teaming and collaboration within inclusive and equitable practices and protect time for teams to develop plans based on conference sessions. Inviting school teams to attend, including general and special education teachers, social workers, administrators, and district leaders and creating space for planning will help schools and districts implement these practices,” says Dr. Ariane Gauvreau, senior director for Professional Development and Training at the Haring Center. “It takes participation from as many people as possible at all levels of teaching and administration to effect change.” Undeterred by pandemic conditions, Haring Center staff embraced the opportunity to reach more people through a virtual institute. “Teams and teachers that may not been able to attend an in-person conference at the Haring Center due to cost and travel were able to participate — and that’s a silver lining that has enabled us to connect with more educators across the state,” says Dr. Gauvreau. “We are honored that so many teachers started their summer breaks with us.” In coming years, the summer institute may continue to be offered virtually because of this ability to reach a wider audience and encourage participation from across the state. Connecting with educator teams from different districts — and being able to share experiences and co-develop best practices — was invaluable for participants like Bergan, who strives to meet students and families where they are. Through her work at John Rogers, Bergan supports student success by advocating for family engagement in schools. Intentionally seeking student and parent input is just one way that she does this. Bergan engages families through home visits and community events, and the coordinated care that she provides ranges from one-on-one academic support to social emotional wellness and support around attendance. She also connects students and families with school district and community resources that address basic needs such as food, clothing and financial assistance as well as culturally appropriate resources. This kind of holistic, coordinated care — an approach that addresses the whole student — is intended to counter systemic barriers that adversely impact students. Indeed, the Family Support Team at John Rogers centers the work of SPS’s Seattle Excellence and Black Excellence initiatives that focus on African American boys and other students furthest from educational justice. These initiatives emphasize that this work isn’t about changing students but rather about changing broken systems in public education. This work begins by listening to families. “I have a unique role in the school which is not driven by straight data, numbers or formulas,” explains Bergan. “Instead, it’s about building relationships, listening and trying to understand. The importance of storytelling and really listening to others’ stories is the only way we can foster inclusion and build community.” “Unfortunately, this isn’t how our education system is set up so it can be very difficult to keep that focus and to encourage that focus in the day-to-day school setting,” she adds. Storytelling as advocacy As a powerful storyteller and parent advocate active in the special needs community, Bethany Moffi was the perfect choice to keynote and close the institute. A fortuitous meeting between Moffi and Haring Center Director of Applied Research Kathleen Meeker at the 2019 Division for Early Childhood Conference clenched it. There, Dr. Meeker heard Moffi speak about her journey as a parent and what it means to dream big with families, and recommended her for any speaking events at the Haring Center. “Bethany’s expertise is storytelling, and she uses that superpower in service of advocacy,” says Dr. Schwartz. “Her keynote at our summer institute inspired attendees to think deeply about the stories we’re telling as we strive to change harmful

    • The UW College of Education (CoE) 2020 graduating class entered the teaching workforce during a tumultuous time. “As a first-year teacher, you’re learning the job, but you’re learning a different job,” says Lik Qi Lim, who received her Master of Early Childhood Special Education from CoE last May. Em Dandridge, who also graduated with a Master of Early Childhood Special Education during the pandemic, explains the newly minted educators were starting jobs that looked like nothing anyone knew. Dandridge started as a special educator in early intervention at Kindering, a comprehensive neurodevelopmental center providing services to children from birth to age three in King County, in March 2020. In this role, they build foundational language and play skills with children and coach parents to support their children. Until a recent transition to a hybrid model, Dandrige’s work has been exclusively remote. “Three days a week we do an interactive virtual circle-time class,” says Dandridge. “I use virtual backgrounds and will put myself literally inside of a book to point to things, and play with Zoom features to make myself bigger or smaller. We also do movement-based activities like yoga classes, as we all know no kid has gotten enough movement in the past year.” Lim also started the school year remotely but moved to a hybrid model after about a month. Lim is a preschool head teacher at the EEU, educating children aged three to five, and explains there have been a variety of challenges this year. “I had to get to know the kids, my team and the families all online. Some kids struggle with online learning, so we were supporting parents through that,” says Lim. “Getting to know the kids through their homes was a hard start, but also really interesting because we got to learn a lot more about their home life.” “Then we came back in-person with a hybrid model,” Lim continues. “We had to set up our classroom with COVID regulations — there were materials that couldn’t be used. Play looked different, large group looked different, everything looked different.” Lim explains that establishing a routine for the children has also been challenging. Some of her children learn in-person twice a week on back-to-back days. She says often they will work hard on something and a child might show progress by the second day, but after five days away from physical school, it can feel like starting over each next week. For Dandridge, the differences of the online model can be more nuanced. “In some ways it’s the same — you’re reading the Zoom room to figure out which kids are tuned in and which kids aren’t. You’d be doing the same thing in a physical classroom, it just looks a little different,” they explain. Both Lim and Dandridge remark their time at CoE helped them succeed in this tough first year on the job. “I started at the EEU in 2018 as a practicum student and graduate staff assistant,” says Lim. “I could draw back from my practicum experiences and knowing the community has helped me feel supported this year.” Dandridge cites the cohort model as fostering a strong bond among the graduating students. “Getting through the tail-end of our program in a pandemic together really solidified that bond,” they explain. “The sense of teaming is emphasized heavily in our program and has carried on as we’ve continued to support each other through a challenging first year of teaching.” The cohort’s collaboration continues formally for Dandridge too. In addition to conducting family sessions, working with children and collaborating with other providers, Dandridge works on Kindering’s equity team. They join another special educator from their graduating cohort to present staff trainings around concepts like neurodiversity and the intersections of gender identity and various neurotypes. Lim and Dandridge agree being a first-year teacher during the pandemic has also come with some silver linings. “I’ve had so many extra support factors, because everyone is just an easy message away,” says Dandridge. “We’re as distant as ever, but we’re also closer than ever before because we reach out to each other to try to make those connections.” Lim says the different relationship with families has been valuable. “In a typical year, you could easily chat with families during drop-off or pick-up in the classroom,” she explains. “Trying to establish the bond with families at the start was definitely harder, especially remotely, but the silver lining to it is that you get to know more of what is going on behind the scenes at home and build stronger relationships with them.” Lim also says she is able to create more of her own lessons with the online and hybrid models. The day-to-day of next year still holds plenty of unknown for educators like Lim and Dandridge. Lim will continue as a preschool head teacher at the EEU, and expresses a longer-term goal of increasing access to inclusive early childhood education worldwide. “I wish there could be a community and school and place like the EEU all over the world, that anyone can access, and where everyone is included regardless of who they are,” she says. Similarly, Dandridge hopes to work in education policy in the future, to make publicly-funded education accessible and inclusive for younger ages, but plans to continue to grow in their current role. “This is a role where you never stop learning,” they say. “That’s one of the beautiful things about working in education, especially with kids this young. Every kid is so unique.” Despite the tough circumstances for their first year, Dandridge and Lim say they love their jobs. “You can still see the community being built. Under those masks, the kids are still enjoying school — they love their friends, they love the place they come to, they have so much fun playing and building a community,” says Lim. “Even though some days it’s so intense, at the end of the day the kids go home and have a big smile on their face.

    • “We know that signs of autism emerge reliably between 18 months and two years,” says Ashley Penney (PhD ‘16), BCBA and research scientist at the UW Autism Center. “But most kids aren’t diagnosed until they’re about four and a half years old.” Annette Estes (PhD ‘98), who directs the Autism Center, explains that the gap is even greater for children who are Black, Hispanic, eligible for Medicaid or living in rural areas. “A large number of kids on the autism spectrum in the United States never get autism-specific intervention,” says Estes. “That is just not acceptable.” With these disparities in mind, the Haring Center joined forces with the Autism Center in 2018 to collaborate on a solution. The On-Time Autism Intervention (OTAI) project now works to increase access to on-time autism intervention services, with a gift from the Seattle Foundation. “Intervention should be on-time,” explains Haring Center Director Ilene Schwartz, who co-directs OTAI with Estes. “We need to meet children and families where they are and provide them with the services at times and in formats that work for them.” The project engages community-based practitioners who offer diagnostic and intervention services for children. Experts from the Haring Center and the Autism Center are developing a practice framework for these community partners within King County, with hopes of expanding it in the future. The project also engages UW students from a variety of disciplines, including special education, public health, social work and psychology. Schwartz explains that the collaborative aspect of OTAI allows the team to use different lenses to view the issues they are trying to address. “In a meeting, we can go from a detailed description of a child’s assessment to a national view of issues and trends in assessment because of our team’s breadth and depth,” she says. OTAI focuses on three areas: diagnosis, navigation and treatment. Jessica Greenson, director of clinical services at the Autism Center, leads the project’s on-time diagnosis work. Greenson works with King County’s birth-to-three providers to improve identification of children who may need an autism diagnosis. She explains there are a number of barriers for children in need of a diagnosis. “Diagnostic centers often have long waitlists,” says Greenson. “For many families, English is their second language. There are financial barriers in terms of driving to a diagnostic center, plus a lot of diagnostic centers don’t take Medicaid. Also, there are cultural pieces – for some families, there is a huge stigma around the idea of disability.” “I work with the birth-to-three providers to develop systems for screening kids and for what to do when those screens come out positive – how to have conversations with families and help them find a place to get a diagnosis,” she says. These families are where OTAI’s navigation arm comes in. “One of the questions we’ve asked from the beginning is: ‘What should every child and their family have in that first year from the initial signs of autism up through diagnosis and intervention?’” says Penney. Penney leads monthly online groups for parents of children who are waiting to get a diagnosis or who have recently received one. She reports some of the stories she hears from parents in this position suggest not enough support and sometimes dismissal of their concerns. “After parents get a diagnosis for their child, there are a lot of different emotions,” says Adriana Luna, a doctoral student at the UW College of Education and Haring Center fellow. “Sometimes they are left without any support at all.” Luna joined the OTAI team to help facilitate the parent groups and make them more accessible by hosting groups for Spanish-speaking parents. For some parents, it is the first time someone is speaking to them in their first language about their child’s diagnosis. “We can’t forget to bring in the parents alongside other professionals,” stresses Luna. “We can understand what parents need from professionals so that we work as a unit to help children succeed.” According to Luna, parents in the online groups have formed friendships outside of the groups, an added benefit of the project. Penney and Greenson are also in the early stages of developing a podcast as a resource for families navigating their child’s autism signs, diagnosis and beyond. As part of OTAI’s focus on autism treatment, Luna and Penney facilitate a Project ECHO network. The ECHO network brings together service providers who work with children three and under with autism, including Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), Occupational Therapists, Speech-Language Pathologists, special educators and family resource coordinators. The meetings involve case studies and create a platform for different types of providers to learn from each other around working with young children who may or may not have their autism diagnosis yet. “These two groups of providers – birth-to-three providers who are working with kids free of charge through Part C and BCBAs working with the same population – have different strengths,” says Penney. “Both strengths are really necessary, so our goal is to bring them together to increase meaningful collaboration.” The diagnosis, navigation and treatment arms of OTAI fuse into the practice framework the team is developing for reaching children and families closer to when they first need services. Estes says the team plans to eventually expand the framework to other birth-to-three providers beyond King County to receive input and observe its use. “I want every child, regardless of ability or background, to receive the services they and their family need to thrive quickly and in a manner that is respectful, responsive and effective,” says Schwartz, in describing her vision for the future. Greenson explains that how early a child with autism can access autism-specific treatment changes the quality of their life and their families’ lives. “We know what to do,” agrees Estes. “We know how to identify autism as soon as it emerges and we know all sorts of effective ways of supporting kids on the autism spectrum and their families. This is the time to bring it to all communities.”