Specal Ed Observation Special Education Visitation For my visitation I went to the public high school in my hometown of Vineland, NJ. Due to time constraints I was not able to visit the school on a weekday when classes were in session. I did however get to witness another part of the special education/inclusion program called the Rooster Buddies. I did, however, get some information on the special education program from an administrator via phone and fax. The special education program at Vineland High School (VHS) is only seven years old.
VHS is on a seven-period day, and the Severely Handicapped (SH), Special Day Class (SDC), and Resource Special Program (RSP) teachers are only assigned students two or three periods. The majority of students are only enrolled in a Special Education class one or two periods, depending upon their individual need. The breakdown of each individual section of the special education program at VHS looks like this: SH 10 Students 1 Teacher 1 Aide SDC 30 Students 2 Teachers 2 Aides RSP 50 Students 2 Teachers 1 Aide The administrator that I spoke to wrote in a fax the Special Education classes are transitioning into study skills classes so the teacher can provide additional help and support for the student to succeed in the regular class environment. During the four or five periods, when the teachers and instructional aides do not have students assigned to them, they are providing support for their students in the regular education classroom. The level of support is directly related to two factors: 1) What the student needs to be successful.
2) What the teacher needs to help the student succeed. So the support provided by the teacher may be provided daily in the regular education classroom, in the form of helping the student take notes, monitoring behavior, doing a lab activity, etc. The support may also take the form of weekly program checks with the regular education teacher, modifying and/or adopting curriculum, or teachers meeting informally to talk. As I mentioned before, I didn’t get to actually sit in on a class but the weekend that I was home the Rooster Buddies were holding a fund-raiser. At the annual City Series basketball game between my alma-mater Sacred Heart and VHS the Rooster Buddies were selling an assortment of baked goods.
The Rooster Buddies is a student club that was started with the intent of helping students with severe disabilities make the adjustment from a self contained classroom in a county special education school to the relatively unstructured experience of a large high school. VHS has over 4,000 students. There are more than 75 non-handicapped students in the club and they work with over 30 students who have disabilities ranging from severe physical handicaps to students with learning disabilities. At the game there were about 15 students without obvious handicaps and 4 students with visible physical handicaps. Since I was not with the administrator at the game I was unable to determine just how many of the seemingly normal students were non-handicapped. From what I saw, the students seemed to work well with each other and actually they were pretty efficient.
At halftime they were really swamped by fans and they worked well. The physically handicapped students weren’t just ornaments. They actively participated, as much as they could. One of the students, Alex I’ll call him, was apparently paralyzed from the waist down. He had full use of his upper body and was one of two kids taking money.
Another student in a wheelchair, who appeared to be afflicted with a more serious handicap (perhaps a form of cerebral palsy) was using the tray on his chair as a table displaying various cookies. The purpose of the bake sale was to raise money for a trip to a local amusement park. I thought that this was a good way to entice non-handicapped students to participate in the program. Another thing that I noticed that I found encouraging was the fact that the students with handicaps were into the game, as fans. Up until about two minutes before halftime and then again two minutes into the third quarter the physically handicapped students found their way out into the gym and watched the game from right near the student section.
They were cheering just like any other students and they were there participating in a big social event. When I was playing in those games, I don’t remember seeing any students with disabilities in the gym. But after taking this class I think that it is great that those students were. Those games are something that any student would want to be a part of and that includes students with disabilities. It’s a shame that the gym at my old school isn’t handicap accessible. The administrator that I talked to steered me to the bake sale and also told me, via fax, about some of the other functions of the Rooster Buddies.
Upper class members of the club are enlisted to attend the pre-school orientation for incoming freshmen and help to ease handicapped students transition before school even starts. Also, handicapped students are assigned a Rooster Buddy during every lunch period. Rooster Buddies are instructed to bring their handicapped friends to where ever they normally eat. This simple form of inclusion makes a BIG difference in helping handicapped students assimilate socially a little better. That is an interaction that normally wouldn’t happen. Often times, especially in high school, students who are different, whether physically handicapped or not, are often ostracized.
Again, I didn’t see one of these lunch sessions, but I could see by the way that the students interacted at the game that they looked at the students with handicaps as peers. I realize that I didn’t get the real in-depth experience that was envisioned for this assignment but I did find what I saw really interesting. I know that just four short years ago they didn’t have the buddy program at that school. And they still have nothing at my old Catholic high school. After learning more about the benefits of inclusion during the semester, it was encouraging to see that those benefits were being experienced by students from my hometown, if not my alma-mater.
I wonder how my knowledge and perceptions of the handicapped would be different if there had been programs like that when I was in high school. At least I can rest assure that future students at VHS will not go through school as ignorant about handicapped students as I did.