Inclusive Classrooms Work: Interview with Dr. Jarice Butterfield

Dr. Jarice Butterfield is adjunct faculty in Antioch University Santa Barbara’s graduate education and teaching credential programs. She is the Santa Barbara County Special Education Local Plan Area Director and has dedicated her life to teaching students, teachers, and engaging with research and administrative work in special education. She holds a PhD in Education Leadership & Organization and MEd in Special Education.

Dr. Butterfield calls herself “a social worker at heart” and knows from her sister’s and daughter’s experiences with disability just how much appropriate intervention can help. She brings her extensive training and experience in special education, traumatic brain injury, and English Language Development to her teaching at Antioch University.

Q&A with Dr. Butterfield

What initially drew you to study and teach Special Education?

Early on after my graduation from high school, I became intrigued by the fact that, with the right services, students with emotional learning disabilities could improve their quality of life and be successful in an educational environment.

I have a younger sister who has Cerebral Palsy and cognitive processing delays and I saw the unjust circumstances that she faced growing up without a Special Education support system back in the 1960’s and 70’s.

What are you most excited about with your current work and why?

Recently, there has been a renewed emphasis put on understanding and treating dyslexia. Those of us in education are embracing this and we now have a common understanding of what dyslexia is under the IDEA category of specific learning disability.

I also became a parent of a daughter with moderate to severe disabilities (Traumatic Brain Injury in 2017). I now have a strong interest in including people with disabilities in schools and the community, and in the social justice issues surrounding this topic.

Lastly, I have published and provide seminars nationwide on the how to assess and teach English learners with disabilities. This is an underserved population and I continue to be passionate about this work.

With your work with English language development, traumatic brain injury, mental health and special education, you have a holistic approach towards education. How have these facets of education influenced your beliefs and practices in education today?

When educators make the important decision of identifying English learners for special education, they must look at the student through a holistic lens and take into consideration cultural factors, past educational history, a student’s native language and level of literacy, as well as other environmental factors that may have an impact on learning.

When serving students with traumatic brain injury, I wholeheartedly believe that educators must take into consideration the pre-injury levels of educational functioning and how the student views themselves in order to effectively assess and provide a meaningful education to the student. Their current levels of functioning must be assessed in the context of all environments to get an idea of the true needs of the student (“ecological” assessment). Family and support systems also play an important role in the rehabilitative process and provision of ongoing educational services.

When considering appropriate mental health educational services for students with emotional disturbance or students that present with mental illness, involving the family and community systems of supports are essential to successfully meeting their complex needs. I am excited about the implementation and efficacy of providing “wrap around” mental health services to students with mental illness in order to avoid the need to place them in out-of-home residential treatment centers.

This year you were a keynote speaker at AUSB’s symposium on inclusive education. Can you talk a bit about the benefits to students when they share a classroom?

The positive effects of including students with moderate to severe disabilities in inclusive educational environments with their peers has been well documented. The research indicates that inclusive classrooms allow students with disabilities to achieve at a higher academic rate, and provide the valuable opportunity for students without disabilities to learn to embrace those with disabilities. Inclusive classrooms foster acceptance of differences in our society at large for all students.

What do teachers need to understand or what skills do they need to have when they have diversely abled classrooms? How does Antioch University’s Education program provide these skills?

All teachers, not just teachers of students with disabilities, need training and expertise on inclusion prior to entering the education profession. They need to be provided the pros and cons of inclusion and to fully understand the social justice concepts behind inclusion and how to do it. It involves instruction in the methodologies of co-teaching, collaboration, and Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

What is the most compelling research being done now in the field of Special Education?

Brain based-research and studies that show how instruction using the appropriate level of interventions actually rewires the brain of students with learning disabilities!

How does Antioch University fold in new research and technology into the education of its teachers?

I really enjoy teaching at Antioch University because this higher education institution embraces social justice, inclusion, diversity and allows educators to engage in diverse teaching and learning styles. As the research tells us that not all students learn in the same way, UDL and diverse models of instruction are the way of the future.

Special thanks to Dr. Jarice Butterfield and the interviewer, Michelle Marie Wallace.


Learn more about Antioch University’s teaching credential and master’s degree programs, including a stand-alone Mild-to-Moderate Education Specialist Credential as well as credentials combined with Master’s degrees in education. 

Inquire today about our programs by emailing [email protected].

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