Seneca Highlands IU9: Pre-K Students of All Abilities Learn From Their Peers

In the northern reaches of Pennsylvania, young children with developmental delays get to experience prekindergarten in classrooms with their typically developing peers. All the children benefit, whether it’s special-needs children making developmental progress, or typical peers learning compassion and awareness as they interact with their classmates.

Seneca Highlands IU9, the early intervention provider for children ages 3 to school-age, in Cameron, Elk, Potter, and McKean counties, offer classes, known as reverse mainstream preschools. There, half the children who attend have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and the other half do not.

IU9 launched the initiative in the mid-2000s, responding to the need for greater inclusive opportunities for young children, as well as the need for parents to find quality preschool experiences in their rural region.

“Families in our area face issues with availability, tuition and transportation to quality early learning programs,” says Janice Vicini, IU9’s early intervention supervisor. “We asked, what can we do that will help our children and also help other children in our rural communities?”

Reverse mainstream classrooms allow children with developmental delays to interact with their same age peers. The IEP students make significant progress in communication, social/emotional, cognitive, and motor skills. And their peers benefit as well.

“They motivate each other,” says Vicini.

The parents of the non IEP students often marvel over how much more compassionate their children are with others and how much more patient they are with their siblings.

“The children build such an amazing camaraderie with each other.”  “The relationships these children build with each other will transcend into Kindergarten and beyond,” says she.

IU9 holds eight reverse mainstream sessions in schools in Cameron, Elk, Kane, and McKean counties. By the time the IEP students age out of early intervention at 5 or 6, they’re ready for a smooth transition to school.

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