Human development and family science alumna delivers inclusive education

Charlotte Klass '17
Charlotte Klass ’17

Inspired by her mother, Charlotte Klass ’17 discovered her career ambitions in teaching at a very young age. “As a child, my mom placed a huge emphasis on including others, no matter their ability. She requested that we were placed in classrooms that focused on inclusive education. She instilled in me a passion for helping others, one that eventually led me to want to become a teacher.”

When it came time for her to go to college, Klass chose Syracuse University at the recommendation of her brother, Max, an alumnus of the College of Engineering & Computer Science. “Human Development and Family Science interested me because it placed an emphasis on understanding how children learn and develop and how family life can influence a child’s development,” she says. “My family has had a huge impact on my life, and to find a major that allowed me to study child development and family dynamics brought everything full circle. HDFS was the perfect fit.”

HDFS majors like Klass gain practical experience in CFS 432 at the Bernice M. Wright (BMW) Child Development Laboratory School, which not only offers the community an accredited, inclusive early childhood education program, but also serves as a training facility for students. “I am a hands-on learner, I like to see what I am learning in the classroom applied to a real-life situation and CFS 432 did just that,” says Klass. “We would discuss different theories or lesson plan ideas, then that week have the opportunity to apply what we were learning in a real classroom.”

After taking an American Sign Language course, Klass was drawn to working with students who had hearing disabilities, so the opportunity to work at Jowonio, a leader in inclusive education, was “a dream come true,” she says. “In my placement classroom, we had a mixture of students with hearing disabilities, students with communication disorders, students with social disabilities and students without documented disabilities, all coexisting together.” There, all of the teachers used sign language when teaching, and as a result, all students were exposed to sign language.

“I watched the room use sign in conjunction with spoken language and saw how many students were naturally drawn to ASL,” Klass recalls. “Students who struggled with traditional means of communication would use sign language as a supplemental form of communication with teachers and it opened my eyes to the possibility that sign language isn’t just for those who can’t hear, but for all those who want to communicate.”

This insight served as a foundation for the inclusive literacy materials Klass wrote for Jowonio: a book that encourages all children, both deaf and hearing, to learn sign language. “We know that it is important to teach children with hearing disabilities sign language, but teaching students with hearing or speech disabilities to sign can also be beneficial. Sign language in the early childhood setting can allow for further communication between caregivers and children and help increase communication among students, peers, and caregivers.”

Observing the students’ growing desire to learn and use ASL was the most gratifying and inspirational part of Klass’ work, she says. “Children do not see disability the same way that adults do, and to watch these students recognize that someone was different and embrace that difference and attempt to communicate was truly inspiring.”

Klass starts her master’s program this summer in early childhood special education at the SU School of Education. “I hope to one day have a Kindergarten classroom to call my own. My dream is to create a classroom where students of all forms of ability can work and learn together,” she says. “Having studied child development, I understand that everyone learns differently, not just students with exceptionalities, and thus it doesn’t make a difference to me if you have a diagnosed disability or not, everyone will have an opportunity to learn in my classroom.”

“Falk College cares about their students, and you will graduate with a degree that has truly prepared you to work in the field,” says Klass. “From small classes with passionate professors who are leaders in the field, to community connections and incredible internship opportunities, I couldn’t be prouder to be a Falk College alumna.”