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Special needs program shines at Franklin Square

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It was about five years ago when the Franklin Square School District decided to revolutionize its special education program, District Director of Special Education Pamela Taylor recalled. Then-Superintendent Patrick Manley had called Taylor and her staff in to discuss an expansion of the department, and, after speaking with several school psychiatric experts and visiting other school’s special education programs, Franklin Square underwent a series of changes to accommodate its special needs students.

During the district’s Board of Education meeting on Feb. 13, Taylor broke down the latest success of the special education program, which was highlighted by the fact that the district now has only three out-of-district students.

“This number is at an all time low and shows that our schools are able to provide these students with the resources they need so they don’t have to go somewhere else,” Taylor said. “It shows that we’re making real process with our program.”

Along with services like speech, physical and occupational therapy, the special education program also adheres to a Least Restrictive Environments, which has special education students spend as much time as possible with their peers who don’t receive special education. According to the Individual with Disabilities Education Act, LREs help maintain students’ rights to an education and to grow along side their peers.

The district takes part in integrated/co-teaching programs that allow special needs students to learn along side their general education peers for intervals either two-hours a day or four-hours. Taylor explained that the district further optimizes the LRE style of teaching through its mainstreaming program, which allows special education students to attend grade-level courses in topics they excel at. This means that a special education student who’s talented in math or science can attend general education classes that would be outside of their regular curriculum.

“Our vision is to provide all students, and in particular students with disabilities, with a supportive academic, social and emotional environment that will give them the skills needed to sustain an independent adult life to the maximum extent possible,” Taylor added.

The district also houses self-contained programs for its special education students. The Transitional Learning Center has fifteen students learn from a teacher and an assistant. And the Individualized Service Plan serves students who are severely-cognitively delayed and have a range of disabilities. The ISPs contain only eight students per class who are taught by one teacher and three assistants.

And the changes to the district don’t just lie in the services for special education students. Behavioral Analyst Michael Marroquin, who Manley brought into the district after those meetings five years ago, said the district was making great strides through its Student Support Center. The support center, which is housed in the Polk Street School, helps students deal with their mental health by providing a positive learning environment and counseling to address the students’ anguish.

Marroquin shared the story of a student in the district who often behaved violently in class. Marroquin said the student slept during classes, the teachers and students were afraid to wake him because he would yell, kick and curse. But after speaking with the student and his parents, Marroquin learned what was behind the student’s anger.

“His needs weren’t being met at home,” Marroquin said. “And when he had his birthday in the third grade, his parents had rented out a bowling alley for the class, but no one showed up. The student was crying. His mother was crying. He was considered a monster at his school.”

After transferring the student to Polk Street and counseling him at the support center, Marroquin said the student was able to thrive in the new environment and successfully graduate last year. District Board of Education Trustee Helen Hoffman said she glad that Marroquin was tackling mental health in the district, and she was proud of Manley’s decision to hire Marroquin as a consultant for Franklin Square.

“Taking care of mental health in schools has been a rising issue over the past two years, and every school should have a Dr. Mike to help them out,” Hoffman added.