• The Power of Inclusion: The Mutual Benefits of a Co-enrollment Model for All Students

    by Renee Polanco Lucero, PhD, LSLS Cert. AVEd

    Echo Horizon School was founded in 1983, and inclusion is at the heart of our school. Our Echo Center program for educating deaf and hard of hearing students (DHH) who use hearing technology is even older than the school, having been founded in 1970. Echo Horizon School was truly ahead of its time in implementing a unique inclusive education model of co-enrolling DHH and hearing students. And while the founding of the school was rooted in providing the inclusion experience for Echo Center students, the model itself is mutually beneficial to all of our students, both DHH and hearing. 


    History of Inclusion in Special/Deaf Education

    “Though the concept of inclusion has expanded to cover those with differences in language, culture, gender, and socioeconomic status who may require different instructional strategies to meet learning and behavioral needs, it was originally conceptualized to reduce segregation between general and special education.” (Obiakor, 2016, as cited in Stelitano, Russell, & Bray, 2019) 


    Inclusion as a special education practice was prompted by the passing of the federal special education law, the Individual with Disabilities Education Act. Schools sought to provide students with exceptionalities their newly guaranteed right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Mainstreaming and inclusion are models that many schools employ to provide a least restrictive environment for students with exceptionalities. The term mainstreaming is sometimes used interchangeably with inclusion. In fact, they mean two different things, as they hold different places on the continuum of special education services. Mainstreaming is the placement of a student with exceptionalities in a general education setting on a part-time basis. For example, a kindergarten student with exceptionalities might initially be mainstreamed for story-telling time and art in a general education classroom. Inclusion is the full-time placement of a student with exceptionalities in a general education classroom. 


    Typical Inclusion setting for DHH students

    DHH students who have demonstrated the readiness skills for a successful transition to a full-inclusion placement are often placed in their neighborhood schools. This is, after all, the primary goal of inclusion and is thought to be most effectively achieved by full-time placement in a general education classroom. In a full-inclusion setting at the neighborhood school, the DHH student might receive DHH support services, such as an itinerant teacher of the deaf, but is often the only child with hearing loss in the school. As we know from the research, it is important for DHH students to have both DHH and hearing peers for healthy development of social competency (Antia & Kreimeyer, 2015).


    The unique co-enrollment inclusion model at Echo Horizon School 

    As described above, a typical inclusion program might only have one DHH student in a general education classroom, or, most often, in an entire school. A co-enrollment program is essentially educating several DHH students in a general education classroom that has a majority of hearing students. By this definition, Echo Horizon School follows a co-enrollment model. Co-enrollment programs are still very unique in the United States and around the world. The Echo Center is a member of the OPTION Schools Network, which is a national network of approximately 35 private listening and spoken-language programs. There are less than a handful of co-enrollment programs in the OPTION Schools Network that meet the criteria of majority hearing students.


    California has approximately 14,000 students with hearing loss (Anderson, 2016). Fifteen percent of the Echo Horizon students are DHH students of the Echo Center and are fully included in the general education classrooms. This translates to approximately three to four DHH students in every grade level. They are fully integrated both socially and academically in the school, and as such are expected to meet the same academic and social standards as their hearing peers. At Echo Horizon School, the general education teachers possess the content area expertise and the Echo Center (DHH) teachers have the expertise in instructional strategies required by DHH students. This is a prescribed criteria for co-enrollment programs (Antia, Knoors, & Marschark, 2019).


    The mutual benefit of the co-enrollment inclusion model for all students     

    An inclusion model can benefit all students. Shogren et al. (2015) found that students with and without disabilities were able to identify the benefits of an inclusive school. These students reported that they were able to help their peers academically, receive more help themselves and they learned to socialize with others different from themselves. These findings are aligned with our belief that students with and without hearing loss are equal beneficiaries of the inclusion model of Echo Horizon School. 


    Communication/Social competence

    Acceptance by peers, important to the development of social competency, is related to identification with a peer group. Peer identification for DHH students mainstreamed/included in the public schools may be difficult because they are likely to be the only student in the school with hearing loss (Antia & Kreimeyer, 2015). Furthermore, DHH students are at risk for social isolation because of delayed social skills that can result from delayed language skills. Anderson (2016) suggests that one such way to prevent social isolation is for DHH students to attend schools with a “critical mass” of DHH students (e.g. at least three DHH students per grade level). Having multiple students in each grade level of Echo Horizon School allows for the fostering of peer group membership, leads to a reduction in social isolation, and in turn higher social competence of our DHH students. Echo Center students have an opportunity to not only learn alongside their hearing peers, but, more importantly, alongside their peers with hearing loss all through elementary. This happens during some of the crucial years in which students develop their own identity. All children- DHH and hearing– benefit from direct support in the development of communication and social-emotional skills. We are committed to equitable access to spoken language communication and curriculum with the use of classroom hearing technology. In addition, our students are all supported in the development of interpersonal skills such as appropriate use of classroom hearing technology, face-to-face communication, making eye contact, gaining someone’s attention before speaking, and strategies to repair communication breakdowns. All of these skills contribute to the overall development of our students’ social competence, which research has demonstrated is crucial to school success (Galindo & Fuller, 2010).



    Advocacy skills are explicitly taught to Echo Center students. Our students with hearing loss learn how to advocate for their communication and academic needs, which helps to empower them both in and outside of school. In addition, engaging in purposeful discussions about the different needs of others is particularly important for DHH students as they are at risk for delayed theory of mind, the ability to take another’s perspective. Perspective-taking also fosters empathy for others.


    Furthermore, our students with typical hearing also learn to take another’s perspective, which leads to understanding the value of differences and empathy. Bearing witness to the daily experiences of their DHH peers also helps to promote their own sense of social justice and advocacy. There is no shortage of anecdotes about hearing students demonstrating thoughtful and compassionate acts that promote social and communication access for their DHH peers. At Echo Horizon School, we place equal value on supporting a DHH student’s development of self-advocacy skills and the hearing student’s ability to empathize and advocate for a DHH friend’s communication needs.


    Academic Support

    A recent survey of teachers of students with exceptionalities found that more than half use collaborative practices for including children with exceptionalities in general education settings (Fowler, Coleman, & Bogdan, 2019).The collaborative teaching that is built into our inclusion model allows DHH students to benefit from the curricular expertise of general education teachers as well as the specialized deaf education training of their Echo Center teachers, all of whom hold a California DHH Specialist credential. Echo Center teachers provide daily support to DHH students as needed, either push-in or pull-out support. This is different from the typical inclusion model for DHH students, in which they may only receive weekly or monthly support from a DHH itinerant teacher. 


    Research shows that inclusion of students with disabilities does not negatively impact the academic performance of students without disabilities (Salend & Garrick Duhaney, 1999). In fact, this model allows for differentiationsuch as the use of various accommodations (posting assignments on a board, repetition/rephrasing, closed captioning, etc.) that can benefit all students and small group instruction to reinforce concepts and vocabulary.  Daily collaboration between the general education and DHH teachers is a powerful combination of expertise that allows all teachers to tailor their instruction to the needs of all students. 



    We are incredibly proud of our inclusive community at Echo Horizon School and truly believe that we have developed a co-enrollment model in which all of our students can thrive academically and socially. We are committed to our evidence-informed practices that particularly support development in the areas of communication, social competency, advocacy, and academics. What an amazing opportunity for the deaf and hard of hearing and hearing students of Echo Horizon School to learn and grow together. 


    Anderson, R. (2016). Improving Education for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in California. Report prepared for California Legislative Analyst’s Office. 

    Antia, S., Knoors, H., & Marschark, M. (2019). Co-enrollment and the education of deaf and hard-of-hearing learners: Foundations, implementation, and challenges. In M. Marschark, S. Antia, and H. Knoors. (Eds.) Co-enrollment in Deaf Education(pp. 124). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 

    Antia, S.D., & Kreimeyer, K.H. (2015). Social competence of deaf and hard-of-hearing children. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    Fowler, S.A, Coleman, M.B, & Bogdan, W.K. (2019). The state of the special education profession survey report.Teaching Exceptional Children, 52(1), 827.

    Galindo, C. & Fuller, B. (2010). The social competence of Latino kindergarteners and growth in mathematical understanding. Developmental Psychology, 46(3), 579592.

    Marschark, M, Knoors, H., & Antia, S. (2019). Visions of co-enrollment in deaf education. In M. Marschark, S. Antia, and H. Knoors. (Eds.) Co-enrollment in deaf education(pp. 325346). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 

    Salend, S.J., & Garrick Duhaney, L.M. (1999). The impact of inclusion on students with and without disabilities and their educators. Remedial and Special Education, 20, 114126.

    Shogren, K.A., Gross, J.M., Forber-Pratt, A.J., Francis, G.L., Satter, A.L., Blue-Banning, M., & Hill, C. (2015). The Perspectives of Students with and without Disabilities on Inclusive Schools. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 40(4). 243260.

    Stelitano, L., Russell, J.L, & Bray, L.E. (2019). Organizing for meaningful inclusion: Exploring the routines that shape student supports in secondary schools. American Educational Research Journal. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831219859307