Schools address students’ needs with Disability Awareness Month

As Disability Awareness Month rolls around, schools are focusing on getting students the resources they need.

In 2011, 6,243 of the 9,675 students in state special education programs graduated high school, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, about 2.4 million school children, or between 4 and 6 percent of students, have been diagnosed with a learning disability.

The organization defines learning disabilities as “more than a ‘difference’ or ‘difficulty’ with learning — it’s a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to receive, process, store and respond to information.” Disorders include dyslexia and ADHD.

Anya Steele, social studies and special education teacher at Bloomington High School South, said her department meets once a week to discuss ways to improve the education of students in an Individualized Education Program track, which encompasses more than 200 students.

“We’re always talking about best practices,” she said.

Some students receive more time to take tests, some have the option of taking them in a smaller group, and others receive one-on-one aid.

Unlike general education students, if a student with an IEP gets in trouble — even expelled — they are assigned a homebound teacher, who meets with them about six hours a week to work on two or three subjects to help them complete their classes.

Outside of academics, students can participate in an adapted gym class and all extracurricular activities. Some have peer tutors who spend time with them, and the school is also involved with the Best Buddies program, in which a general education student is paired with an IEP student to help them with social interactions.

Some students are also involved in athletics such as football and wrestling.

“We’re full-inclusion,” Steele said. “All the populations are involved in all aspects of the school.”

Greg Chaffin, counselor at Bloomington High School North, said many services are offered, such as books with enlarged typeface for those with vision impairments or a “scribe” for those who have trouble processing information. He said for a student to be eligible for an IEP, they must be identified by a doctor or psychologist as having a learning disability.

For students who may not qualify for an IEP, there is the 504 plan, that dictates doctors, administration and parents decide which course of action is best for the child.

Chaffin said BHSN is also concerned about student inclusion, with some classes including special education students and general education students taught by a special education teacher and “regular” teacher. The school also helps seniors apply for SAT testing with extended time.

He said although the school doesn’t have enough people to meet the needs of its special education population, it is working to train teachers to identify struggling students.

“I think in our current century I am excited to see that the public school system is trying admirably to identify students with special needs,” Chaffin said.

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