Expanding Inclusion: Special Education at BLS


BLS gives a warm welcome to its new special education staff. (Source: Mary Bosch (I))

At the start of the new school year, Boston Latin School hired a number of faculty members with training in special education in an effort to better support students with Individualized Education Programs (IEP) and 504 plans. These plans help accommodate public school students with special needs to decrease the disparity in academic results.

“One of the key things that we are looking to build is a robust inclusion model here at BLS that is able to provide services to all our students with disabilities so that they can achieve and have access to the same level of academics and the same level of experiences and opportunities that students without disabilities have right now,” says Assistant Head of School Steven Chen, who oversees the BLS Special Education department.

Ms. Gina Sedita, a cheerleading coach at BLS for ten years, now joins the faculty as a Class I and II inclusion teacher. She was previously a special education history teacher at Excel High School. Ms. Madeleine Johnson is the special education teacher for Class IV. Mr. John-Anthony Nevada is the inclusion teacher for Class VI. He previously taught at Young Achievers, along with Mr. Phi Tran (‘10), who now returns to work with Class V students.

Instead of teaching different subjects, the inclusion teachers cycle through all academic subjects by employing a co-teaching method. Two adults instruct together; one teaches the lesson while the other explains concepts in a different way, or taking turns for lessons. This system is designed to improve the learning experience for all students.

In another teaching model, Ms. Laura Boston works in a separate classroom with seventh graders who have special education needs. Having taught at a smaller school last year, Ms. Boston joins her students as they adjust to BLS. She believes that “learning with each other and from each other is the best way to do it.” Both teaching models aim to ensure that students receive the necessary support to excel academically.

Indeed, students report positive results from the changes made. Mariam Abdulle (VI) explains, “I think the co-teaching [method] is something that’s pretty helpful, because you can ask two people for help and there’s a more likely chance you’ll get the help.”

Prior to this school year, students with special education needs visited the Learning Center, where they were supported in their academics, executive functioning skills or other areas depending on their IEP. Mr. Rene Gauthier was previously the only teacher leading the Learning Center. With the addition of Ms. Jenna Brown four years ago, they have been able to provide effective service to over 150 students. Having worked at BLS for 20 years now, Mr. Gauthier has built strong relationships with his coworkers and ensures that all of them understand how to meet students’ IEPs.

In addition, the Ongoing Mental Health and Emotional Guidance for Adolescents program, run by Ms. Zoe Smith and Dr. Vanesssa Prosper, has also provided students with academic and emotional support for students as noted in their IEP since 2015.

Both Boston Public Schools and BLS have previously lacked services for qualified students with IEPs, which is an obligation outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Within the district, students with disabilities have historically underperformed, according to the standards the state has set in the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. As of the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reports that over 50 percent of students with such backgrounds in tenth grade are not meeting these standards, making them unable to receive a high school diploma in Massachusetts.

BLS math teacher and Boston Teachers’ Union representative Mr. Trevour Smith explains, “We’ve always been fighting for inclusion. […] And so now with the influx of funds and resources that have come in, we now have the opportunity to be able to fund a lot of things for inclusion students.” The increase of funding the BPS receives is reflected at BLS primarily by the increase of the number of staff.

BLS, along with all other schools in the district, is in the process of creating an Inclusion Planning team in accordance with the Boston Teachers’ Union contract. This team aims to assess the current resources and create a plan for implementation of inclusion.

While major strides have been made toward better special education support, the long-term future of inclusivity at BLS remains uncertain. The school, however, strives to ensure that every student here has access to all the resources they need in order to succeed.