This program is designed to encourage inclusion for special needs children by promoting understanding of equity, fair play, and diversity.
This unique learning opportunity is created by partnering a class of typically developing Junior Kindergarten/Senior Kindergarten students enrolled in the Jackman Institute of Child Study with a class of Junior Kindergarten/Senior Kindergarten students with disabilities from the Bloorview Integrated Education and Therapy Program.
The goals of this program are to promote confidence, self-esteem, and self-advocacy, to address inclusion, stereotyping and discriminatory behaviour, and to prepare students with physical disabilities for successful integration.
For more information about Bloorview School Authority, please visit their website here.
Tuition: $10,000 (payable to the University of Toronto)
Maximum spots: 12 children to join 8-10 Bloorview children
Adult to student ratio: 1 to 4
Full time OCT teachers: 2
Location: 150 Kilgour Road, Toronto (Located on the same site as Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital)
We moved to Toronto in 1999, my wife and myself, and our first child – a 1-1/2 year old boy. #2 was on the way and was born in 2000. #3 – a girl this time – followed in 2002. (We called it quits after that). One of the first ‘big city’ challenges we faced was child care. While we both took some time off work when the kids came along, we were looking for a progressive solution that went beyond what most of us know as ‘daycare’. Long-time friends live nearby and they suggested we explore the Integrated Kindergarten Program (IKP). We followed up on their suggestion and were simply fascinated with what we saw. How do we enroll?
This – THIS – was kindergarten! Music and games and digging in a faux fossil bed looking for dinosaur bones (and being able to name them all properly), environmental lessons, transportation systems, agriculture strategies – learning themes that we thought had no business in three and four and five year old classes were being rolled out day after day after full day. And that was the extraordinary thing – this was a full-day. Not just six hours of minding – hardly – this was a full day of engagement and challenge, and the payoff was enormous. We saw it at the dinner table each evening, and in his attitude and demeanor, his inquisitiveness and empathy and, above all in his excitement! And it was contagious, too. The second wanted in on the action, and enrolling our third was a no-brainer. By then, there were improvements to the building and a steady rotation of really, really fantastic assistants and therapists and co-teachers, but with the steady authority and constancy of Paul Alcamo to guide and nuture students and student-teachers alike.
Oh, and the wheelchairs, and the walkers and the canes and crutches and headgear and, well, there was a scrapyard’s worth of stainless steel in there each morning, but, you know? I never noticed it after the first few hours myself, and the kids never batted an eye. They were just a gang – ME AND MY FRIENDS – and they shared the same dynamics as any other group of kids anywhere, overlaid with a phenomenal enrichment atmosphere and top class programming from experts. And they’ve all turned out well I think, ours and certainly the others we know of. These are happy, polite, respectful and engaged young adults now, and they will each find their own pathways and face their own challenges and – I think – find their own solutions and successes because of who they are and because of how they started out. The two years at IKP have made a huge difference in our three; I can’t imagine what they’d be like without that experience, and I will never underestimate the impact these kids will have on the world.
The IKP Program at Bloorview School Authority had a deep and lasting impact on the life of my daughter. I chose the program because I was fascinated with the diversity my daughter was going to be able to experience and thought it would be wonderful for her to develop empathy. Little did I know that she was going to gain so much more from those two years in kindergarten! She is now going into middle school and I see how deep rooted are the transformation that Bloorview helped define. During the two years and the Integrated Kindergarten Program, I watched in awe my daughter grow from a tentative and insecure toddler into a confident and driven little girl. I think this is a result of very intentional efforts. One of the goals of the IKP Program is to help kids with disabilities develop the ability to be advocates for themselves. To achieve that, self-confidence is a key element. Paul works intently with the class on that. His effort bears benefits for all kids, typically developing or with disabilities. For my daughter, this led her to develop a profound sense of self and a comfort with who she is and what she has to contribute to the community around her. I cannot think of a more impactful gift I could give my child than the opportunity to build her self-confidence.
Bloorview's IKP program teaches its students the concepts of inclusion, advocacy (both for self and peers) in an innovative and fun environment. The children benefit from early exposure to peers of different levels of needs and abilities and that helps them to build empathy, tolerance, and acceptance which ultimately helps them to flourish in our wonderfully diverse world. However, this is just a side benefit of what truly is a fantastic learning environment! Children learn through experimentation, field trips, technology and exploration all under the careful supervision of the amazing staff within the IKP program. With an incredible staff to student ratio, the children learn in a fun, safe and supportive environment. In her 2 years within the IKP program, our daughter blossomed from being quiet and relatively shy, into a bubbly, expressive and caring child! A truly incredible program that we were fortunate enough to benefit from!
My husband and I enrolled our twin daughters in the IKP starting in junior kindergarten, and they are now in the second half of senior kindergarten. Based on all of my research, and whether I put on my neuroscientist, clinical neuropsychologist or mom hat, I believe this is the best school to which we could have sent our kids. The IKP follows the teaching principles and the spirit of ICS. But the opportunity for our girls to be in a class with an exceptionally high teacher to student ratio, and to learn with kids of all stripes, is a privilege. So is the opportunity to be students with the exceptional teachers and staff at IKP.
We wondered about the implications of going to school at Bloorview. Might our girls feel guilty that they don't have a disability? Might there be less of a focus on our kids' needs because of more pressing needs of other kids? No and No. And what we didn't anticipate was that the variation in capacities across the kids has meant that our girls have needed to think harder and more creatively, in order to apply the values that they learn in school: caring, inclusion, thoughtfulness, patience and more. They have learned to trouble-shoot not only on their own behalf, but on behalf of others.
Outside of school, our girls' trouble-shooting abilities and their ability to advocate for themselves and others make people marvel. On play-dates, we notice this in the other IKP kids as well. We feel these are very important abilities that make our kids safer and stronger. Our girls are also kinder and more understanding than I would have expected at this age. They are of course unfazed by disability, and they fully understand that "packaging" is not who a person is. They talk about not only the fantastic facts they learn at school and at the many school outings, but also about the world, and how to make it better and fairer. They are still your typical 5-year olds - fun-loving, silly and endlessly inquisitive - but they have a rather remarkable big-picture vision that we believe comes from the IKP.
Lastly - the parent community. While we don't have much of a frame of reference, it strikes us as unique. Our girls have play-dates with kids from ICS and Bloorview, sometimes with one other family and sometimes in a group. At birthdays, parents invite the whole class to movies, bowling parties, cooking parties at Loblaws, home parties and more. As the class is small, it's been easy to get to know people. The parents of kids with disabilities that we've come to know don't seem to sweat the small stuff, and that has rubbed off on my husband and me. At the first birthday party, I wondered whether our girls were dressed appropriately, if we had gotten the right birthday present, etc. I didn't think about this by the second party, and this frees up a tremendous amount of space. The dynamic between parents is non-judgemental and supportive, and there is a comforting feeling that parents have the backs of all the kids. I chase after other people's kids at the Science Centre and AGO as much as my own; I turn around and a parent has bought my girls a snack or more. These values - generosity, accommodation, and a focus on the stuff that matters - are modelled at the school.
In sum, it's an amazing school and as is self-evident from this note, the school gets our highest commendations.
Every time I walk into the IKP class I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude that this is where my daughter gets to spend her days.
As a parent there is nothing more comforting than knowing that my daughter is surrounded by teachers and staff that nurture her and embrace her for who she is not to mention make it their priority to understand what she needs as an individual. I remember loving going to school and this is what my daughter expresses to me every day; it doesn't get better than that.
As a teacher I am constantly in awe of what I see happening in this classroom. I am inspired. The students are excited about learning. Over the course of the year I have watched the kids in this class transform and grow in who they are, what they know, how they think and the way they interact with each other. There is no question that these children will continue to reap the rewards throughout their school years because of having the privilege of starting their journey in this exceptional and exemplary learning environment.
It’s hard to believe that almost 17 years have passed since our son was part of the IKP program at Bloorview, a wonderful experience which we believe helped shape him into the young man he is today – a very confident, self-assured, and compassionate individual.
Being integrated with the special needs children at Bloorview, our son developed an appreciation for diversity and acceptance of the differences in people, became a champion against stereotyping and discriminatory behaviour, and developed a lifelong desire to positively impact the lives of people and special needs individuals in particular. Throughout grade school and high school he worked with special needs children from all walks of life and areas of the city as a reading buddy, academic tutor and mentor. In his final year of high school, he competed for and was awarded the University of Toronto National Scholarship to study Mechanical Engineering at U of T. What is significant about the scholarship was that he was required to submit an original work as part of the application process. What he created and submitted was a fully functioning prototype of a robotic drawing toy called a “Colorbug” (named for its colourful ladybug shape). He re-engineered the original joystick control mechanism and outfitted it with proximity sensors to make it possible for special needs children to operate, inspired in part by a young man who suffered with cerebral palsy, a student he had met at Bloorview many years before while he was in the IKP program with him.
We consider the IKP program to be one of the highlights of our son’s education, and are grateful that he had the opportunity to begin his education at such a wonderful institution, one which has had a lasting and positive impact on him.
Our family had the most wonderful experience in the Integrated Kindergarten Program (IKP) at Bloorview School Authority. With the implementation of full-day kindergarten and all of its challenges, right at the time my son was about to enter school, we decided to pursue alternative options. I had been a Teacher-Candidate in the IKP class exactly ten year earlier, and so thought this would be a good fit for our family. We knew the moment we went for a tour that this would be the place we would send our child - the room was buzzing with excitement and activity, and the teachers and assistants were so attentive and involved. My son was a part of the IKP for JK and SK and loved every minute of it. The teachers, support staff and volunteers were outstanding and their program delivery was hands-on, integrated, and engaging. Our child learned to be caring, open minded, accepting of others' differences, and to advocate for himself and his friends with different learning needs. All of this, together with small class sizes (much smaller than in public schools) made his learning take off during the important early years. He loved school then and now, and even two year after the program ended, he fondly recalls his time there. We could not have asked for a better foundation for his schooling than what was offered at Bloorview and would recommend it to other families without hesitation.