TODAY   |  February 18, 2013

School breaks barriers for kids with disabilities

The Ideal School in New York City represents a new frontier in education where kids with mental and physical disabilities are learning alongside students with no special conditions, providing each student with a unique education plan. MSNBC’s Alex Wagner reports. 

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back now at 8:19 with stories of progress "today." msnbc's alex wagner is here to tell us about a school here in new york city putting students of different abilities in the same classroom to learn side by side . good morning.

>> good morning, carl. as more and more attention turns to learning disabilities and education, the ideal school is expanding the definition of diversity and adding inclusion to the lesson plan .

>> d.

>> what was the word?

>> democracy.

>> reporter: max is not a typical child but his mother wanted him to have a typical school experience.

>> when it came time to looking for school for kindergarten we wanted something that was similar to the preschool experience we had, go to school with his peers and other kids his age regardless of their ability or situation.

>> reporter: audit ra zuckerman and the parents of two other children with down syndrome founded the ideal school in new york city .

>> arrested in 1964 --

>> reporter: representing a school with a new -- learn alongside children with no special abilities.

>> when we talk about inclusion.

>> education and mental ability, ideal offers unique solutions. teachers build a curriculum based on each child. entire class will focus on the same top he can, each student has a lesson plan drawn to his or her needs. the sixth debride is reading beowulf .

>> they can learn something, maybe by differentiating through the different books. they do know when someone is bragging or boasting, they do know when someone is putting their lives on the line to save others and they also know what it's like to be at a table saying " beowulf , beowulf ."

>> reporter: students never miss lessons or feel stigmatized for being pull out of class. the head of the school believes that a social education is as important as an academic one.

>> if you are only in a class with peers who have special needs you're not having role models for the typical behavior that would perhaps help you move at a faster pace.

>> reporter: she says for children without mental or physical disabilities , diversity teaches important lessons.

>> those students also are gaining so much from being teachers from learning empathy, compassion, kindness.

>> reporter: parents see the effects firsthand.

>> the kids are partners with each other. they support each other. they advocate for each other.

>> reporter: ultimately, ideal believes accepting others begins with accepting yourself.

>> you don't have to leave part of you at the door when you come to this school .

>> reporter: in the best case, that acceptance becomes something much bigger. pride.

>> he is a ham. he's accepted for that. that is part of who he s he is so proud of the fact that he has down syndrome that he doesn't think of it as a negative. it's just something about himself and who he is.

>> we should mention that the ideal school is private and students with special needs do pay more to attend the school , which is how it's able to have multiple teachers in every classroom. financial aid has been a big part of the school 's mission, to ensure, of course, a diverse student body . carl?

>> watching some of that video, alex , the impact on those kids with special needs must be amazing.

>> the kids with special needs grow up not thinking that anything -- there's nothing different about them, that they have nothing to be ashamed of. on the other side, the kids that grow up, quote, unquote, normal, have a completely different conception of what it means to have down syndrome. they just treat each other in a really, actually, beautiful way . it's a very special place.

>> how easy would this be to replicate around the country? should parents who see this in california think maybe this is coming my way, too?

>> resources are part of it. raising the money for it, tuition piece and financial aid piece is definitely a consideration. it begins with parents and teachers and educators saying, look, this is the kind of environment we want to establish. maybe if the school isn't singularly dedicated to bringing these students together, it's about integrating the classroom.

>> if your kid is, say, gifted or talented and slowed down some way in this classroom?

>> i think it's mitigated by the fact that they have tailored experience. you're getting special attention in the classroom no matter what.

>> alex , thanks for the story.

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