TEACHER MARIA VENTURA helps a special needs child during a class at Grand View Boulevard Elementary School in Mar Vista.

TEACHER MARIA VENTURA helps a special needs child during a class at Grand View Boulevard Elementary School in Mar Vista.

By Gary Walker
For years, a large part of the mission of Grand View Boulevard Elementary School in Mar Vista  has been to accept and educate  children that other schools might not see as model students, for a variety of reasons largely unjustified.
The elementary school, whose student population is largely Latino, has found success in educating all of its young charges, regardless of ethnicity.
It is home to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s oldest dual language English-Spanish program. And now the faculty and administration are embarking on another challenge that is in line with their mission of serving all students who walk through their gates.
Students from the former James J. McBride Special Education Center, which was next door to Grand View, have been taking classes with students at the dual language school in an immersion initiative that has been in place since last month.
LAUSD officials say the two schools were planning this transformation since last year and by all accounts, the first month has gone well.
Grand View is the fourth LAUSD school to have a full academic and social integration program that mixes special needs students with children without special needs. All pupils are sharing the library, the cafeteria, the parents center, the school’s computer laboratory and many classes.
LAUSD Executive Director of Special Education Sharyn Howell said the success of any new educational initiative, especially involving special needs students, requires organization and planning from the top of the organization, be it a school or a district.
“One of the key elements that is necessary is a strong leader, and the leadership at Grand View is committed to making this a success,” she said.
Leading Grand View is principal Alfredo Ortiz, who took over a school that once had very low enrollment numbers and has transformed it into an academic success story.
“The district has been very instrumental in helping us with getting our school ready for the immersion,” he said.
The school has installed Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant infrastructure where it is needed, including restrooms, ramps and lunch tables that are wheelchair accessible.
Grand View has added six teachers for the full immersion and approximately 20 paraprofessionals to help the special needs students, some of whom are wheelchair bound, and others whose learning disabilities are more severe.
“Having the personnel in place is really vital for this integration,” Ortiz said.
LAUSD Board Member Steven Zimmer, who represents Mar Vista in District 4, echoed Howell’s views about the skills of Ortiz and his team and what it takes to make the social and academic immersion plan work.
“This is absolutely what we should be doing. But it’s not always an easy thing to do,” said Zimmer, who has shouldered a great deal of challenges during his time on the school board. “But when you have really good leadership and really strong commitments, good things happen for kids.
“Principal Ortiz has been a courageous, hands-on, sleeves-rolled-up kind of leader, and that has made the Grand View-McBride merger the best that we’ve had so far in the city,” he added.
Zimmer said the full immersion initiative eliminates segregation between students and fosters tolerance and acceptance between students as well as educators.
“Grand View is a special place, and I really want to share this story because there is a lot of fear around full inclusion, and some of that fear is appropriate,” Zimmer acknowledged.
“Ultimately, we want every student to have access to a good public education in the least restricted environment, and I can’t believe that a completely segregated environment is what we should be doing.
“I really believe that we’re doing the right thing at Grand View and I’m very proud of the work that’s been done by the Grand View staff and the McBride staff.”
On any given day, a visitor to the campus can observe children with disabilities playing with general education students on the playground during recess and eating together during nutrition times.
The school partners general education students with special needs children, and Ortiz said he has seen changes in many of the students since the integration began. “The kids have really embraced it,” he said. “Students with disabilities are learning to socialize and our general education students are learning to be peer models for them.
“They have really taken on leadership roles in assisting our special ed students in being a part of the general curriculum. It’s been incredible.”
Jannette Turner, a special education teacher, has seen the results as well. “It’s wonderful to see the reactions, the development and the friendships that they are developing with peers of their age,” she said.
Ortiz said educators have also benefited from the immersion program. “It really broadens our approach of working with children in that we’re better able to work with children from all walks of life,” he said.
Against the backdrop of the integration program, Grand View has emerged as another Westside school to have made a large jump in the state Academic Performance Index, which measures academic performance and growth of schools on a variety of academic measures. They have reached 804 on the API for the first time in several years, surpassing the state’s goal for academic proficiency.
“I don’t worship test scores when they’re bad and I don’t worship them when they’re good,” Zimmer said. “But this is proof positive of what we’ve believed for a long time: the success of Grand View would become evident in the scores.”
Ortiz said the foundation at Grand View for a successful social and academic integration has been in place for years, due to the school’s history for accepting students from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
“It’s an appreciation for multiculturalism and diversity in general, and this integration only adds to that,” he concluded. “It really teaches our children that we’re not all of the same makeup and it teaches them tolerance.”
Gary@ArgonautNews.com

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