It’s shortly after lunch on a weekday at UCP Bailes, a charter school near UCF that serves children with disabilities.
On his way back to class, a small first-grade boy pumps the wheels of his wheelchair — something he just learned to do. Other students cheer him on.
Moments like these happen daily at this far-from-ordinary elementary school.
UCP, the United Cerebral Palsy of Central Florida, is a charter school that caters to the needs of children with varying abilities. One of seven Central Florida UCP campuses, Bailes sits on Science Drive, right around the corner from UCF.
With 350 students ranging from infancy to fifth grade, UCP Bailes’ student population comprises approximately 50 percent special-needs children and 50 percent typical students, a ratio unheard of in average elementary schools.
The campus was built to be inclusive from the start, whereas many schools are retrofitted to be inclusive. So how is a school like Bailes able to tend to the needs of each child with such a wide variety of students?
In addition to rotating classrooms to meet individualized needs for all of the kids, each classroom has two dual-certified teachers, as well as one teaching assistant, supplied by UCF’s very own elementary education students. The teacher-in-residence program puts UCF undergraduates directly in the classroom, working hands on with students five days per week.
Last May, Principal Anna O’Connor-Morin identified a need for quality paraprofessionals at the school. Alongside Dr. Rebecca Hines, UCF Education and Human Performance Professor, the teacher-in-residence program was launched.
“It is very hard to find good teaching assistants who understand the teaching-learning process,” said Hines, who has been working with UCP since its construction in 2009. “It’s hard to fill those positions with people who understand education.”
In total, UCP employs three teachers-in-residence, each from UCF and placed in grade levels corresponding to their majors.
The program is a direct reflection of UCF’s emphasis on service learning. Many Knights often volunteer at the school, earning service hours, and a majority of UCP interns are UCF students as well.
Teacher-in-residence and senior elementary education major Erin Anderson said the program has allowed her to take much of what she learned at UCF to her second- and third-grade classroom at UCP.
“I love being able to see students with and without disabilities working together,” Anderson said. “They’re able to see past one another’s limitations and become fast friends.”
While the teacher-in-residence program is still in its early stages, it will serve as a blueprint for similar programs at UCF later on.
“We’re looking at this year almost as a pilot. UCF will now use this model with other schools or agencies who request it and who have the same needs,” Hines said. “We’ve had a lot of interest from the community. It’s a pilot project with UCP, but it won’t only be a UCP initiative.”
In some ways, the UCF students serving as teaching residents will enter the workforce with more in-depth skills than their peers.
“As someone who trains teachers, I hope that they leave with the confidence to teach any type of child who comes into their future classroom,” Hines said. “I think that’s the single thing they have access to here that they wouldn’t have access to elsewhere.”
Tom Brickel, assistant administrator at UCP, said he’s seen the residents transform into teachers in their short time here.
“We’ve got a very good staff; the staff is top notch,” Brickel said. “They’re not just sitting at the back of the classroom watching the teacher do the work. They’re involved in every single facet.”
Having UCF students on staff makes UCP administrators proud.
“We’ve become so much of what we wanted to be and that was a teacher-led school,” O’Connor-Morin said. “That also makes us very unique in comparison to traditional schools and education today.”
Rosie Reitze is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @rosie_ucf or email her at RosieR@centralfloridafuture.com.