Shawnee Pup Pack takes part in inclusive program

Elisabeth Slay
The Shawnee News-Star

The Shawnee Public Schools staff daycare known as Pup Pack is taking part in the Early Foundations program, which is one of five programs in Oklahoma with a trial model with inclusive days for students who have Autism.

According to Emily Fleming, special education teacher of the Early Foundations Program, the Pup Pack and inclusion program are for infants and preschool age children.

"We service three and four year olds with Autism; we have a (morning) class and (afternoon) class," Fleming said.

She explained the program started in August of 2019 and provides students an opportunity to belong.

Students at the Shawnee Public Schools Daycare Pup Pack and students from the Early Foundations inclusive program play together.

What is the Early Foundations program?

"The sense of belonging is something that everyone wants and needs in their life and this program lets the inclusive piece days be able to have all the students together making those peer relationships and working on play skills together," Fleming said.

The educator said the Pup Pack is for parents where those peer relationships are happening each day in their own classroom.

"We have had great responses with this amazing program," Fleming said. "The parents of Early Foundations have been wonderful to get to know and we have enjoyed having their awesome children."

She explained Early Foundations is important because it gives students the opportunity to build inclusive relationships that are meaningful.

Students at the Shawnee Public Schools Daycare Pup Pack and students from the Early Foundations inclusive program play together.

Education for Oklahoma children with 'all abilities'

For Fleming it is this aspect of Early Foundations that she enjoys the most.

"(I love) being able to provide the community an opportunity to have an inclusive foundation to receive, accept and support children with all abilities," Fleming said.

There are 20 students in the Pup Pack and six spots in the Early Foundations program.

Fleming said Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are typically direct instruction days in which students learn functional communication, self help skills and play skills.

"Tuesdays and Thursdays are the inclusive days with our peers making those relationships that are so meaningful for the future," Fleming said.

Going forward, the educator said the program hopes to add younger students from Pottawatomie County Soonerstart.

"Early Foundations is proof that if you are set up for success for families and students you can achieve great things," Fleming said.

She said she would like to thank the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Shawnee Public Schools, Oklahoma Autism Center, Early Foundations OKC, the Avedis Foundation, St. Paul's United Methodist Church and Shawnee Education Foundation.

"(I want to also thank) every person sending encouraging words our way to help these students with a successful inclusive environment," Fleming said.

Students at the Shawnee Public Schools Daycare Pup Pack and students from the Early Foundations inclusive program play together.