Monday was our first day at ISK, where the students observed, interviewed, and took photos for the website. The school has grown very quickly in the past few months and years, so it is full to bursting. We were very conscious of the important work that was happening and so we tried to gather the info we needed quickly and professionally. The staff and students were so welcoming and helpful. Many of the students there have been through unimaginable trauma, so it was surreal and heartening to see them going to school, joking with the staff who care for them like surrogate parents, and mugging for the camera.
The next day we went back to ISK and the students presented their work, which was a big hit! We all shared some cakes and shared plans for continuing to work together in the future. It was such a great experience for us all, and I was proud of how our students navigated that big, abstract task.
On Wednesday we visited Jan Baptist, a school for children with special needs. In this school, children are grouped according to their abilities and needs, then prepared academically and practically for entering the world as much as they are able when they turn 18. I was impressed by the warm, loving atmosphere and the support that is tailored to each student's needs. I was also thrilled to be invited to a reading circle and to a dance party, though I found myself feeling a little self-conscious about doing an airplane dance. :)
When our students learned earlier this year that most European countries do not practice inclusion like we do in the U.S. (for the most part), they had pretty negative reactions. In the Netherlands, schools are moving toward more inclusion models, but I think we also saw some of the benefits of a school dedicated to providing specialized support for students with special needs. For instance, I know it can sometimes be an uphill battle for parents to make sure those supports are available in U.S. public schools, but a school like Jan Baptist has a lot of knowledge and infrastructure in place to make sure students get what they need. I'm sure it's not perfect, but it was good to complicate the broad notions we had about special education in the Netherlands.