Today, I had an appointment, along with other parents, to tour a specialized classroom that my two eldest mentally disabled grandchildren might be attending when they begin high school. I have to say up front that I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic way in which we were welcomed by the staff of the program, plus, their efficiency in answering our questions about specialized programming, and also their interest in transitioning disabled children from high school into inter-dependent adult living including the workforce.
At the time of writing this, a decision has yet to be reached as to whether this will be the high school my grandchildren will be attending, so I have to withhold my excitement for now, but for readers who are curious about specialized programming in high school, the following notes I quickly scribbled, while trying to keep up with the discussion, might be of interest.
At this school:
- There are three classes in the specialized programming: Comprehensive, Autism, and Developmentally Delayed. The tour I attended was for the Comprehensive Program.
- In the Comprehensive Program, the graduation age is twenty-one.
- In all three classes combined there is a total of ten Educational Assistants.
- The Comprehensive Program is geared to students with a minimum grade one or two reading level, plus simple math. Below that, the student would be placed in the Developmentally Delayed program.
- The students work from the same timetable daily which is important as mentally disabled children prefer structure with as less change as possible, although activities do vary minimally, such as: during cooking class the students will learn to make different meals each time.
- The students learn life-skills. For example: cooking, shopping, socializing, hygiene, fitness, transportation (taking a bus from A to B without losing their way).
- Many people (which, before this tour, included me) don’t realize that mentally disabled children can be musically proficient, so I was pleased to learn that specialized programming encourages the student’s skills and confidence through performances in front of other students and parents.
- Communication between parents and teachers is important to the staff and so daily agendas containing pertinent comments regarding the child’s day are used, plus telephone communication on a regular basis is encouraged.
- Although registered in specialized programming, students could be assigned an IEP to ensure their individualized needs are continually being met (See post: What is an IEP?).
- The students are constantly supervised during the school day and travel with a member of staff whenever they leave the classroom (e.g. going to the school cafeteria for lunch, and helping the student to make change while paying for lunch).
- The staff encourages one-to-one friendships between the students. This particular school has a Best Buddies program to help utilize that goal. There are also after-school activities designed to generate friendships between students such as school dances.
- When a student helps with necessary work such as clean-up, they receive a freebie snack.
- The students are encouraged to participate in co-op placements with businesses in their area, resulting in many students finding positions in the workforce upon graduation.
- I asked if bullying of the challenged children by the mainstream school children was more frequent than bullying of non-disabled students, and was met with a chorus of denials by the staff who assured me they are constantly aware of possible bullying and keep on top of any potential victimizing situations.
If you live in the Hamilton-Wentworth district of Ontario, please go to http://www.hwdsb.on.ca for further information about specialized school programming.
I’m extremely pleased to report that my two eldest grandchildren with mental disabilities have been accepted into a Comprehensive Class: Living & Learning Program at a Secondary School for September 2013.
I took my two grandchildren on a recent tour of their new classroom, so they could meet the Teacher and Educational Assistant, and also their fellow students. The classroom will be their home until they are twenty-years of age, during which time they will learn much needed life skills for independence and will get support and help for securing workplace experience and hopefully future employment.
After we had been introduced to everyone in the class, my grandkids were taken on a tour of the school by several of their classmates, during which time the teacher explained to me the various program elements offered in her class, which include:
A reading program which includes a combination of independent reading, guided reading, and shared reading. Materials include – novel studies, magazines, maps, library books, pamphlets, calendars, etc. Writing program includes reading responses, journal writing, resumes, filling out forms, etc. Speaking opportunities include oral presentations, sharing work, role-playing, etc.
Foundational skills are practiced through hands-on math manipulative, role-playing, environmental numeracy (looking at bowling scores, grocery receipts, menu items, etc.) worksheets and computer drills. Topics include: money, telling time, number sense (adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing), estimating, weather charts and temperature graphs, shopping, time management, etc.
All students learn job readiness skills such as: resumes, interviewing, positive attitude, problem solving, etc. Senior students participate in Transitional Work Experience Program (TWEP) where the EA takes 1-3 students to a job placement. Students in the past have worked at: Fortinos, Little Caesar’s Pizza, Dollarama, Blockbuster Video, local public schools, and Value Village.
Students learn about healthy living and improve motor skills through swimming, bowling, outdoor recreation, physical education, games and leisure activities.
Daily Living Skills:
All students participate in daily classroom jobs such as: preparing food, washing and drying dishes, setting-up the agenda, putting chairs up and down, etc. Class activities include how to ride buses safely in the community, preparing healthy meals, washing clothes, healthy relationships, etc.
Students learn about transitions by using a daily agenda and monthly calendar.
Instructional Practices include:
- Individualized planning based on student needs
- Combination of independent and group work
- Use of hands-on materials
- Experiential learning through “doing” – Field Trips
This class is an excellent environment in which, over the next several years, I am sure, my grandchildren will thrive and learn skills designed to provide them with a solid foundation for life as adults with disabilities.
Some times, amazing things do happen!