Kraig Bushey sat with two students at Highland Park Elementary School and played a game of matching colors and buttons.
“You guys are doing a great job working together,” Bushey said to the children. “So you both can get 10 points for that.”
Bushey is part of Bridges to Success, a program teaching kids with emotional or behavioral difficulties and anyone serviced under the Americans with Disabilities Act, is designed to help kids learn the basic skills they need to be functional in traditional classrooms throughout their education.
Bushey, a special education teacher at Highland, said Bridges is based off of the Boys Town Educational Model started in Omaha, Nebraska. He said it provides a basic foundation for teaching behavioral and focusing skills to a child.
“It’s a kind of scale-streaming program,” Bushey said. “They come to the Bridges class to try to get those extra skills to be successful in the traditional classroom environment.”
The students follow the general curriculum in each school but also focus on extra skills, such as listening, focusing in class and dealing with criticism from teachers and students.
He said the process of deciding whether a child needs to be in the self-contained classroom is extensive. The schools will try multiple behavior plans in the traditional classrooms with the students and attempt different approaches and tweaks before deciding the student would be most benefited in a Bridges classroom. The students either graduate from Bridges back into a traditional classroom or stay with Bridges through the majority of their education.
Sandy Lewis, a counselor for Monroe County Community Schools Corporation, said she was observing Highland Park’s Bridges classroom for the day. She observed one student in the class who they were working with on an extended-care after school separate from Bridges. She said this was part of his Individualized Education Program.
Lewis has been working with MCCSC and special education classes since 1986. She said the programs have become more structured since she first started working.
“It was different. We had all types of kids in the old programs, so it was multi-categorical,” she said. “Kids with all different kinds of disabilities, so it’s different now because I think it’s much more structured and more in-depth. We get kids the skills they need.”
He said the overall education is as individualized as possible to fit every child’s needs.
“I think over the years as we have learned more about disabilities we have been able to provide more tailored one on one support,” Bushey said. “When you figure out what that kid needs, you’re able to target certain things for them.”
Bushey said he started working in special education in 1995 but remembers when he was in high school and special education was just beginning to bring children back into main buildings and classrooms. He said the late 1980s were the beginning of the progression he sees today of being more tailored to students and their individual education.
Special education is mandated by law in Indiana. MCCSC has various programs for individualized needs. Bushey said the district has been active in providing support for students.
“I think we are very fortunate for our special education directors,” Bushey said. “The district has always been open. If you need more support for an individual, they’re open to hearing about it.”
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