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!