Meet Jose and Reese
“Jose has made such progress this school year. He has really started engaging in self-directed pretend, or imaginative, play in recent months, which is a major accomplishment for him. At the beginning of the school year, Jose didn’t really understand how to play.” --Allison Thompson, Jose's teacher
“Hola! Como esta?” Jose Escobar, 3, speaks clearly into the Fisher Price toy phone as teacher Allison Thompson delightedly observes from across the room. “Jose has made such progress this school year,” Allison says. “He has really started engaging in self-directed pretend, or imaginative, play in recent months, which is a major accomplishment for him. At the beginning of the school year, Jose didn’t really understand how to play.” In her classroom of three-year-olds at Siskin Children’s Institute, play is what it’s all about. “Institute classrooms are play settings, which is the most appropriate environment for learning for this age child,” she says. “Sitting at a table and doing worksheets is not what we’re about.”
A child with Down syndrome, Jose has challenges with many developmental milestones, and that’s where Siskin Children’s Institute can help. Allison and the other staff members have worked hard to help Jose develop his communication and social skills. She says Jose is using some sign language now, he’s verbalizing, and he’s starting to make his own choices, all significant signs of a developing young brain. “Jose’s family is bilingual,” Allison says. “His mother speaks to him only in Spanish, but the rest of the family speaks English and Spanish, so his pretend phone calls are often in Spanish.”
In addition to the four dedicated adult educators in Jose’s classroom, he also has a “pint-size teacher” in the form of classmate Reese Jones. Reese, who is a typically developing child, is the classroom’s cheerleader and a born leader, often reaching out to help and direct her classmates. Allison says, “Reese plays with everyone. Reese will do something, and the other children will do it, too.” Reese has imaginative play down pat, engaging in pretend scenarios—everything from playing in a rock band to shopping at the grocery store—that she happily draws Jose and the other children into. It’s a case in point for the benefits of inclusive classrooms where children with and without special needs learn, play and grow side-by-side.
Allison says Reese and Jose are the best of friends. A visit to Classroom 2 for a photo shoot bore this out recently. Posing for the picture, Jose and Reese locked arms, tilted their heads together and produced the cheesiest of grins as the shutter snapped. “This is the age where children do start to have an awareness of physical and cognitive differences in each other,” Allison says. None of that matters when it comes to Reese and Jose’s friendship though. They give us a glimpse of what the world could be if acceptance and goodwill replaced misunderstanding and prejudice. They are friends without labels.