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In the mainstream at a Brooklyn high school

"What is mainstreaming?" This was the principal asking a 10th grader who had just shown us his schedule of classes for the term.

"It's regular classes," was the ready response.

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"Are you in any mainstream classes?"

The young man nodded in the affirmative, indicating a physical-education class and social studies. The principal had taken him out of a resource room where he was getting special attention from a skilled tutor.

Later on our tour, the principal again asked his question: "What is mainstreaming?" The student this time was in honors classes, taking advance placement biology, a 12th grader, considering entrance at two or three selective colleges.

Her answer was precise. She explained, "Some students have special handicaps and they study in small groups and get special attention for part of the time, but some of the time they take regular classes. In other words, they are allowed to be part of the mainstream at the school."

Saul Bruckner, principal, asked her if she had been in any classes with handicapped youngsters while at Edward R. Murrow High School. She indicated that she had two years before, but not since.

We had taken her out of a class in horticulture with no less than six handicapped students in a group of less than 30. The principal persisted, "You aren't taking any classes this term with handicapped students?"

"No," she said. "There aren't any." And then she told of the one a year before who had required assistance with a wheelchair. She also explained that they were all glad to help this one and that it not only hadn't held them back, but had taught them some good lessons as well.

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About 2,500 students attend Edward R. Murrow High School; some 300 of them are handicapped, including brain damage, hard of hearing, partial vision, and orthopedics.

Saul Bruckner, who continues to teach one course each term and has been in the New York City schools as first a teacher than an administrator for his full working life, helped in the physical design of this seven-year-old school, and keeps a very watchful eye for over every detail today.

He has what I call "director's stoop." It comes from walking around campuses and school halls with concerned school heads. They keep bending over and picking up bits of paper. I've been with directors who have sought out a student to hand them to. Mr. Bruckner did not do this when I was with him, but I rather suspect had I not been the "visiting journalist," he would have done so.

How is it that a very bright senior doesn't know when she is sharing a classroom with "special" students?

It's all part and parcel of one of the most sensitive and concerned high school administrations I've ever visited.

The director of the handicapped program -- a vice-principal -- also teaches a class each day.

That's more than special, in such a big school, in such a big city system, to have top administrators actually in classrooms daily.

Further, no list of handicapped youngsters is posted; no list is sent from teacher to teacher; no label is placed on these youngsters. Every classroom has a sheet near the door explaining what to do in case of seizure, but no list of students diagnosed to have this problem is circulated.

No one, then, can look for this deviant behavior, expect it, or label a student with this or that "handicap." At the same time, every precaution is taken to protect each youngster. A full staff of specialists in all handicaps deals with each youngster, sometimes acting as brokers with classroom teachers to ease each special student's learning problems.

These handicapped youngsters are taught to type. Their teacher, who gives workshops all over the US, has worked out programs for every possible "problem typist."

"Can they fail to learn?" I dared to ask.

How can I describe his vigorous "NO" from a man considerably over six feet high and weighing well over 14 stone?

Also, no bells ring in this school; instead teachers start and dismiss classes on time.

Every student has two study periods. They may use a marvelously well-equipped library which includes adapted material for the handicapped. The students are also free to sit alone, or even in pairs, in the halls.

An intramural sports program reaches deep down into latent talent; physical education classes are coeducational, mainstream the handicapped, and include such popular items as yoga and disco dancing.

With this interest in group sports and a family feeling among the fully integrated student body, there are no varsity athletics. Edward R. Murrow High School doesn't play other high schools in interschool sports.

This all works well because this is a "volunteer" school. The students apply -- some years as many as 10,000 -- and less than 1,000 are chosen.

Who gets accepted? The number of handicapped and the types of special needs constrain some; ethnic and racial considerations also play a part; a 50-50 male-female ratio also helps in the selection; and a strong component of those whose academic seriousness will allow them not only to tolerate mainstreaming, but to so take it for granted that it doesn't become a label.

Many academicians and education specialists argue that the principal of a school makes the difference between a "good" and a "bad" school. The principal of Edward R. Murrow High School, Avenue L. Brooklyn, is no exception to that rule.


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