Published: Oct 6, 2010
When observing students in the Palma Ceia Presbyterian Preschool
classroom, it’s hard to tell which students have learning disabilities
and which do not.
That’s exactly how it should be, said Dr.
Patricia O'Grady, an assistant professor of education at The University
of Tampa who specializes in exceptional student education. She visited
the South Tampa school as a consultant along with her colleague, Dr.
Hunter O'Hara, a professor of education with a strong background in
early childhood education.
Started in 1979 with Nancy Little as
director, Palma Ceia Presbyterian Preschool is a pioneer in the field of
inclusive special needs education. The school serves about 120 students
ages 1 to 4, a minority of who have special needs.
“All of the
things we are teaching our students to do, they are doing there,” said
O’Hara. “It speaks to one teacher’s profound vision and commitment to
meeting the needs of children no matter what their needs might be.” O’Hara
were asked by the school to provide guidance on how to grow the
pre-school program. Little said the church-governed school was at a
pivotal point but not sure which way to go. The school was bound by a
small space in a neighborhood location, increasing needs from interested
families and long wait-lists for classrooms that are at full capacity.
and O’Hara provided a comprehensive study on the possibilities for the
school in a report they completed in the fall of 2009. Little said they
soon became aware of the school district’s decision to eliminate the
prekindergarten program offered for 4-year-olds, so they turned back to
the consultants’ recommendations and followed-up with O’Hara and O’Grady
on curriculum selection.
In the following year the school
administrators worked to get an expanded prekindergarten program in
place and in the fall of 2010, welcomed 17 new 4-year-olds to the Palma
“Certainly not every college professor has the
desire to help the community in the same way as these two,” Little said.
“It was clear they had worked with community programs before and that
they respected community programs. They were genuinely kind and put the
needs of the children first.”
Last year O’Grady was invited to
give a presentation at the National Association of Early Childhood
Teacher Educators national conference in Washington, D.C., regarding the
research methods the two employed during the Palma Ceia consultation.
suggested that when other early childhood programs are finding
conflict, this exploratory method of problem solving is a model for
early childhood education,” O’Grady said. “You facilitate this problem
solving, the process. It hasn’t been applied to pre-school programs in
any widespread way before.”
O’Grady and O’Hara are in the process of publishing an academic paper on this work. Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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