AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Augusta County Public Schools has a different approach to teaching preschool students with disabilities.

For more than a decade, students with disabilities at Hugh K. Cassell Elementary have not been separated from their peers. Now, the Virginia Department of Education is recognizing the inclusive approach.

Teachers like Amanda Bilyeu who are dually endorsed in both early childhood and special education are teaching preschoolers of all abilities in the same classroom.

“They just see each other as friends and peers and we're just a little classroom community,” Bilyeu said.

According to instruction supervisor Andrea Riegel, special education at Augusta County school isn’t a class, but rather it’s a service.

“It is built on a belief in this school division that this is how we do business,” Riegel said. “We have kids who have pretty significant needs, but within that preschool setting those IEP goals and their needs are embedded throughout the day many times.

Because of the success of this approach, the VDOE created a video about the inclusive preschool program to service as a model for other school divisions. Riegel says the work to get to this point started more than 10 years ago.

“It’s just amazing we have gotten to this point,” Riegel said. “The children and families came first and how did we build a program that was very strong and met their needs?”

Some children with typical learning abilities were introduced into the special education classes. Then, teachers blended a couple of classrooms and now, all 18 preschool classrooms are inclusive.

“Children are children and they shouldn't be separated by their strengths and weaknesses or the color of their skin or any other reason,” Riegel said. “It's a benefit for the children, for their families, for us, for the other children in the school to see that we value everyone the same.”