The Lord has blessed Divine Savior Academy (DSA) since its opening almost 16 years ago. The school opened its doo, focusing on a small elementary program that put college planning in its sights from the get-go. This model would serve the church in outreach to the local community.
Sharing the gospel with the students and families of DSA coupled with “college prep” academics connected with the community and allowed DSA to grow from its initial 20 students to around 1000 today in preK-3 through 12th grade. As the student population grew, however, new challenges arose that the school recognized. This included the need for English as a Second Language (ESL) support as well as special education.
DSA has come to embrace a co-teaching model of instruction to meet the needs of most students requiring additional support. This model brings a second teacher into a classroom permanently to support those in need. The classroom teacher is responsible for the curriculum covered in class, while the co-teacher is responsible for accessibility. Within a typical classroom, each may take on changing roles as they plan for each daily lesson. Co-teachers support the entire class along with the teacher while ensuring the accessibility needs of students are being met.
In order to identify the students in need of this additional support, an RTI model is currently being implemented within the school. Through ongoing evaluation, student progress is being constantly monitored to allow DSA to provide support before a student begins to fail in any particular area. When a student continues to struggle after additional support has been provided, additional collaboration with the child and his or her family will take place to find the best way to provide accommodations moving forward.
DSA has hired two professional and experienced teachers in special education to help coordinate and provide services, such as creating educational support plans and interventions by pull-outs and push-ins to the students at DSA. They further have the support of three full-time staff members as well as a handful of classroom teachers to co-teach in various classes throughout the day to facilitate the program.
As with any new program, the co-teaching program is consistently being reviewed to make improvements as we seek to serve our students better. If you would like to learn more about what DSA is doing, please contact Marcella Corrales at Marcella.firstname.lastname@example.org.
What does a Lutheran school do when it has students with needs that the staff does not know how to address? Reach out for help, learn, and grow! Grace Lutheran in Glendale, AZ has started a program to meet the varying needs of all of their students. The Student Support Program is designed to meet a variety of student needs ranging from ADHD, anxiety, trauma, and learning disabilities to autism, cognitive disabilities, and cerebral palsy.
WELS schools start with many advantages to meet the needs of students: small class size, devoted Christian teachers willing to go the extra mile for their students, and freedom from the state/federal regulations of public schools. The most important advantage is the saving gospel message! These blessings make our WELS schools a wonderful setting to let our Christian light shine to all God’s children, even to those with special needs.
Grace Lutheran has had an inclusive mindset for years, accepting students into their classrooms and school family with a variety of needs. However, the teachers desired more guidance and support to feel confident that they were providing the best education possible for their students. This support started in the form of a special education consultant working with the school and families to put together individual education plans similar to an IEP for the unique private school setting. In the first year, it grew to having a special education teacher on campus a few hours every week.
In August of 2019, Grace initiated a full Student Support Program. A special education teacher, an assistant, and several faithful volunteers provide push-in and pull-out services for both students who are struggling and students who are excelling. Students needing additional support in the area of academics have access to Barton Reading, alternate curriculum to meet their specific needs, and homework help. Students who are needing enrichment activities are offered with Spanish class, critical thinking activities for when they finish their work, and book clubs.
God has blessed Grace with qualified workers and volunteers, funding from a state program called ESA (Empowerment Scholarship of Arizona), and a committed congregation working to share the good news of Jesus! Please, pray for the continued efforts of this program. If you have any questions or would like guidance starting a program at your school, please, contact Principal Joel Walker at 623-937-2010 or Student Support Director Brenda Wagenknecht at 520-233-0554.
CESE is starting a new series of blogs called "Special Ed in the WELS." We'd like to share with you special education models that are working in various schools in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). We'll start this off with the program at St. Mark Lutheran School in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
St. Mark has a student population of around 200 students each year. Special education is carried out through the Student Services Support Program, which also covers gifted programming. About 45 students are currently receiving regular instruction through the Student Services program, split fairly evenly between students receiving special education and those in the gifted program. The program is currently staffed by a full-time, licensed special educator--also called the Student Services Coordinator--and a three-quarters time instructional aide.
A few years ago the Student Services classroom was moved to St. Mark's former computer lab, and that room was redesigned specifically to meet the special needs of students. The room is painted in the calming colors of blue and white, with furniture to match, except for one section of wall used for green-screen work in the gifted program. Items on walls are kept to a minimum and materials are mostly kept out-of-sight when not in use to avoid too much visual stimulation.
Students who struggle in school are tested by St. Mark's Student Services Coordinator to see if they qualify for additional help through Student Services. Outside testing done by other professionals, such as neuropsychologists and public school IEP teams, is also taken into account. Students who have special needs but can stay in the regular classroom full-time have accommodations plans written for them, similar to public school 504 plans. For students who require specialized instruction, Individualized Learning Plans (ILPs, similar to public school IEPs) are written. ILPs have specific, measureable goals, and regular progress monitoring is done to make sure that students are on track to meet their goals. When progress monitoring indicates that a student is not progressing quickly enough, teaching materials and/or methodology are changed to help the student get on track.
Students who qualify for St. Mark's gifted program meet 1-2 times per week in one of three groups: Discover (grades 1-3), Explore (grades 4-5), or Quest (grades 6-8). The Student Services Coordinator also helps general education teachers to find ways to challenge those students in the classroom, and some students receive advanced instruction in certain subjects in the Student Services room.
Other aspects of St. Mark's Student Services Program include coordinating outside services that come to the school (speech therapists, public school staff, Title I and III teachers, ABA therapists, and the like) as well as teaching social skills monthly in grades 1-3 and running two small social skills groups. In the 2019-2020 school year, St. Mark became a school in Wisconsin's Special Needs Scholarship Program (SNSP). This provides additional funds for materials to meet the needs of qualifying students, and it has already been a great blessing to them.
If you have any questions about St. Mark's program, feel free to contact CESE board member Jane Mose. (See the "About & Contacts" page on this website.) We look forward to sharing more examples of special education in the WELS in the coming months!
Going to the movies is an activity that many families enjoy together but if someone in the family suffers from Autism or another sensory disorder going to the movies is not an activity that has been enjoyed by all. Either no one goes, only some of the family attends, making others feel left out, or everyone attends and the overwhelming sensory input can put the sensory sufferer into overload or melt down.
With summer break right around the corner for many of our schools across the country it it nice to know that some movie theatres have made this outing more friendly for all. Marcus Theaters and AMC have seen the need for sensory friendly films and are now monthly providing this as as option for those with sensory difficulties. A sensory friendly film has the sound down, the lights up and movement, singing, talking are all allowed.
Marcus Theatres calls the program REEL Movies for Real Needs. Marcus offers this weekly. The 1st Saturday of the month is a first run movie. Movies are shown at 10:30 am and are available in Appleton, Ashwaubenon, Madison, Mequon, New Berlin, and Oak Creek in Wisconsin. Contact information can be found on the website or by calling 1-800-274-0099 x1.
AMC also offers Sensory Friendly films and partners with the Autism Society. AMC shows Family friendly films on the 2nd and 4th Saturday as a matinee and the 2nd and 4th Tuesday for more mature audiences. Desert Star, Fitchburg, Mayfair, and Star Johnson Creek all offer this in Wisconsin. Check the website for more details and the current sensory friendly film that is being shown.
If your family is unable to attend a sensory friendly film and have an individual who suffers from sensory input you can try ear plugs. The plugs sold in the local drugstore or discount store work well. Attend the earliest showing of the movie. This usually means a show that is before noon. Waiting until the movie has been out a few weeks also helps. I have a grown son with Autism and using these techniques we were able to go to the movies a few times a year. As with all children who suffer from a disability, prep your child for what to expect and as the parent pack a lot of patience, understanding, and those items that you have learned work for calming your distraught child. In my case that is an iPad. Your child may have another technique. Let us all treasure our special gifts from God and go to the movies.