They say it takes a village to raise a child. Many organizations in the village of East Aurora have joined together to help educate the children at Immaculate Conception School. The Catholic Diocese, East Aurora Union Free School District and Erie 2 BOCES have banded together to provide special education to the students of the Catholic elementary school.
Immaculate Conception now has a dedicated Learning Center with two full-time special education teachers, one part-time occupational therapist and a part-time speech therapist to help the students where needed.
"We have a fully-staffed Learning Center here, so that all our students are able to be serviced throughout the day, every day," said Scott Kapperman, principal of Immaculate Conception School. "You have that level of comfort because the teachers are here, they are part of our school. Everyone knows them. They are accessible everyday for questions and to assist in whatever we need. It's a really great environment for the children to learn in."
Public schools are required to provide special education to non-public schools in their district. Often, the teachers visit the schools for one period or the students are bussed to the public school, which cuts into class time.
One of the main benefits to having on-staff teachers, is that they get to know the kids. "They know what's working what isn't working. If you pop in for 20 minutes, you don't really get a handle on how things are going on a daily basis. When you're in the building all day, you see the kids all the time. You get to experience what they experience, so it helps," Kapperman said.
The school uses what it calls a Push In/Pull Out plan. If a student needs help with group work or notetaking, Julie Tomasik, special education teacher with Erie 2 BOCES, will push into a class, literally join a class and help the student, giving him or her a second teacher. Other times, kids are pulled out of class to receive some occupational or physical therapy in the Learning Center.
The Learning Center is for students who have an Individual Education Service Plan. When a child is identified as having a learning disability, they go through a series of assessments at the district level on special education. At that point it is determined what type of services will benefit them to have what Kapperman calls a "more positive successful education experience." A typical plan is a 3X40 schedule, where they will spend 40 minutes in the Learning Center three days a week. Kapperman said 15-20 percent of the school's students use the Learning Center.
"Whatever the Special Education Committee on Special Education determines necessary for that child, we have to consult with Teacher's Services so we push into the classrooms and we have a resource room where we pull kids out, and we try to accommodate a time where they're not missing any of their academics," explained Tomasik. "So, when they're down here, we're working on skills to help build them back up to their level. We are working on some of the classroom things, carrying them over to here, so we can get them a little bit more information."
The school uses Aimsweb Plus to measure reading and math grades to monitor the progress of each student. Each student gets tested three times a year. Some see tremendous growth over a year. Others go up and down. At the end of the school year, a plan is developed for the next.
One mother, who also works as a one-on-one aid for the school, has a sixth-grade daughter with Down syndrome.
"This is the only place where we could really find inclusion. She was at (another Catholic school), which had a great program, but the public school ended up pulling their services out," said Tracy Welsh-Zizzi. "This has been a great opportunity for her to still be included, but also get the services we need."
Welsh-Zizzi measures the benefits not only in grades, but in her daughter's happiness.
"She is much more successful academically with the supports, but it's the social and Christian environment that she wasn't getting in (public school). I think the typical kids also benefit from her, seeing differences and diversity."