Professors coordinate with Russian schools for education

Russia is a place that is moving towards a better understanding of individuals with disabilities, and some professors in the special education department at Tech are getting the opportunity to help with that.

On Nov. 2, Helen Dainty, Laura Graves and Amy Callender are making a trip to Siberia for eight days. The professors said they will be attending a conference that will hopefully raise awareness and cause a change in Russia’s views on students with special needs.

Callender said Russia is a country that needs help with their movement to understanding and working with students with disabilities because their past on the subject isn’t very strong.

“They have very little inclusive opportunities for students with disabilities,” said Callender. “The students with moderate to severe disabilities are not typically being educated by peers without disabilities.”

The professors indicated there is a very high importance level associated with this trip due to the history that Russia has with individuals with disabilities.

“It’s huge because, in the past, parents were prompted to give their child up at birth to the state if [he or she] had a disability,” said Graves. “We’re just now seeing parents start to take a step back and say, ‘Oh, I don’t think I want to do that.'”

Graves said Russia just passed its first actual special education law in 2012. She said there’s a big difference between the United States and Russia in this regard. The U.S.  has had laws in place for special education since 1975.

Dainty said the conference that the teachers are attending will take place on Nov. 7. It will concentrate mostly on autism, and will cover some elements of the Putnam County schools’ Independence Program. Dainty also said there is going to be a timeline presented that shows how far the United States has come in the history of special education. The presentations given at the conference are going to be presented in both Russian and English.

“An online conference was held Sept. 20 that helped to make the actual trip to Russia possible,” Graves said.

“The online conference was really the lead-in for this conference in Russia,” said Graves. “It was all actually their idea, and it’s been pretty extensive getting everything set up and worked out for the conference.”

Students are not able to make this trip with the professors. However, Tech students have been able to communicate with some of the individuals from Russia via the online conference and other presentations Russian teachers have sent that were used in the classroom.

 “The students here were just floored when they heard how individuals with disabilities were treated in Russia,” said Callender. “It’s interesting because our students’ perceptions are vastly different than ours on how they would educate students with disabilities.”

The professors said they do have hopes to take students overseas in the future.

“We wish that we could take students because there is a lot of student interest there, but we don’t currently have an agreement to get them there,” said Graves. “We want to incorporate our students in this as much as possible, so that they have a broader understanding of what is out there across cultures.”

The professors will be staying with host families while they are in Siberia. They will be flying overseas Nov. 2 and will be returning to Cookeville Nov. 9.