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‘More alike than different’

United Preschool teachers aim to promote inclusion

The day after World Down Syndrome Day, the teachers and staff at United Preschool in Albert Lea on Monday brought a special message of inclusion to their classrooms.

Teachers and staff dressed up in colorful socks and specially made T-shirts, and the preschoolers learned about the value of celebrating differences in each other.

Kara Paulson, special education teacher through Albert Lea Area Schools, said she had gotten two books last year through the Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota to read to the students, along with stickers and other items, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they had not been able to use them until this year.

Teachers read the books to the children in both the morning and afternoon classrooms. The books taught that even though everyone is different, it is OK to be different, she said.

“We’re more alike than different,” Paulson said.

Teacher Annie Furland said the special lesson Monday is one that the preschool tries to promote throughout the school year.

Students also participate in the Special Olympics Young Athletes program, which is a program for children with and without intellectual disabilities that introduces basic sports skills such as running, kicking and throwing. Furland said the program breaks down movements for the children so they can learn them at their own pace. They also learn other important life skills such as sharing, taking turns and following directions, the program’s website states.

Furland said United Preschool has been open for students of all abilities for over 25 years and works with the Albert Lea School District to provide  additional services when needed.

The school recently opened registration for the upcoming school year for children ages 3 to 5. Registration will be open until classes are full. Parents can stop into the office to register or call. 

Paulson encouraged parents of children with special needs to advocate for their  children at all ages and said some parents may not realize that their child can attend a school such as United Preschool if they require special services.

“Any kid can go to any school,” she said.

She said the teachers at the school also have a goal to honor and celebrate other educational disabilities in the future in their continued effort to promote inclusion amongst students.