School offers curriculum for Special Service students

December 13, 2019

Every year, Special Services works to make curriculum more inclusive for all students. These efforts are integrated into classrooms in such a discreet fashion that some people do not realize how many opportunities are provided, and how many students utilize them.
Special Services Chairperson Jorie Burtnette reported that 328 students have an individualized education program. An IEP is a legal document which provides students with a written plan ensuring that their cognitive and emotional needs are met.
These students receive assisted learning and support, as the school is mandated to provide a place for every student to learn in the least restrictive environment possible based on their own unique requirements.
DGN offers 81 classes with direct special education support, along with around 40 certified specialists. These classes and staff provide a wide variation of support in different subject areas throughout the building. A prominent feature of special services opportunities is the availability of multi-needs classrooms. Students in these classes include non-verbal students, students with autism and down syndrome. Teachers also strive to incorporate academics as well as lessons to advance social and emotional skills. They are run by a wide range of special services faculty: aides, therapists, teachers and countless other support staff members.
Kimberly Hartsfield, a special services teacher, has a specific approach to maximizing her students’ potential.
“[The students] are always going to need help with academics, so we try not to focus on that as much as in other classes,” Hartsfield said. “They have to be able to deal with these social issues. I appreciate that we have the flexibility to deal with those things because that’s more of the real life stuff that they need to attain more of.”
Multi-needs and special education classes also incorporate significant “traditional” learning, but the flexible system gives teachers the ability to incorporate more open-ended and adjustable schedules than in some more rigidly structured classes. This way, students are learning on a more individual basis, depending on what is benefitting them most in that moment. One of Hartsfield’s students says that his classes truly allow him to succeed in the best way possible.
“Teachers give you enough of the support you need so that you feel encouraged to actually do better,” the student said.
Karen Brown, Vocational Coordinator for Special Ed, works with students to help them come up with plans for their futures.
“We try to think about where they can work in the future and where they see themselves going to school and continuing to learn after high school,” Brown said. “We really encourage our students to develop their interests, to find what types of jobs they’re interested in and also which jobs they’re not interested in.”
In addition to vocational support, students with multi-needs are able to participate in a wide range of extracurricular activities; singing in all-access choir, improving physicality in adaptive PE, being a part of multiple different sports teams and enrolling in other general education classes.
The target is for these students to graduate and become a part of Transition 99, the district’s program for students with cognitive disabilities ages 18-22, where they can continue to develop crucial skills and find a “real world” job as they adjust to adult life.
Hartsfield adds that the school works in very mindful ways to set students with special needs on paths for success, both moving toward Transition 99 and beyond.
“Work ethic and how students present themselves to other people [is the most important thing for them to learn],” Hartsfield said. “Students will need help for the rest of their lives, so if they’re going to work hard and be presentable and kind, more people will want to help them”.

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