There is no textbook “special needs student,” Special Education Director Rick Sharp told a small audience of parents at Pinkerton Academy.
Sharp made his presentation Thursday, Jan. 30, during the Headmaster/Parent meeting held in the Science Lecture Hall of the Academy Building.
Sharp said Pinkerton currently has close to 500 students who have IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) or other issues that qualify them for Special Needs status. They run the gamut from students in A-level classes to those with severe developmental needs, he said.
His department’s mantra is “Communication, Collaboration and Understanding.”
Sharp sketched the options available to Special Education students. The Resource Room is the largest, he said. There is one Resource Room strictly for freshmen, with several others strategically placed across campus. Each Resource Room has two case coordinators present along with one program aide.
Students can stop by for homework help or take their tests there, if their IEP has that modification.
Some children with IEPs also see a reading specialist in order to pump up that critical skill, Sharp said.
The PASSES program (Pinkerton Academic Support For Student Educational Success) is primarily for students with emotional disabilities, he said. It’s a self-contained program with four years of math, four years of English and other required subjects. A student can be in PASSES for all four years or use it as a resource room, he said.
The ACT (Alternative Comprehension Transition) program is for students with intellectual disabilities, he said. It is a combination of life skills and academic work, Sharp said.
Sharp said JLU (Just Like Us), a program that pairs Special Education and non-Special Education students for events and activities, is the largest club in the school and has been used as a model by other schools.
With a rise in students on the autism spectrum, the department created PCE, or “Personal Communication Enrichment,” in which a special ed teacher and a speech pathologist work with small groups of students on the autism “spectrum” with a focus on social skills.
“We have officially 46 students classified as autistic, though we also have a large group of others at various points on the spectrum,” he said.
The Freshman Academy program helped the department identify these students early on, “and wrap our arms around their needs,” Sharp said. The school recently invested in Autism Pro software, which is available for staff development, he said.
Other resources available include Reading Efficiency, a two-period, full-year class aimed at helping students with decoding the written word, he said. He added that the sending districts are doing a better job in preparing students in this area.
Reading In the Content Areas, 1 and 2, help students with comprehension, he added.
The school is also looking at two important transitions, from eighth grade in the sending towns to high school, and from high school to beyond. The latter is important, he said, because New Hampshire doesn’t have a lot of services for adults with special needs, and parents need to be prepared to advocate for their children.
The school does its part, helping the Special Education student come up with a five-year plan in ninth grade, along with short and long-term goals. In 10th grade there’s an interest survey in economics class, job shadowing, and visits to the College and Career Center. In 11th grade they are encouraged to take electives in their career area, visit colleges and attend the College Fair. In 12th grade it’s more electives and college applications. “We might hook them up with Vocational Rehabilitation at this point,” Sharp said.
What he wants to avoid, he said, is a child graduating from Pinkerton and sitting at home on the couch.
“Our goals, as both educators and parents, is to work ourselves out of a job,” he said.