By Beverly Keller
The one size fits all approach doesn’t work when it comes to education. The administration at Garaway Local Schools realizes this and has developed plans and ways to serve the needs of all students, especially those who are usually underserved in Special Education.
“First and foremost we recognize that every student is different and learns in a different way,” Director of Students Services Jeff Williams said. “We understand that while one student may be able to work alone, without guidance, another student may need one to one help.”
Williams noted that the district feels each teacher goes above and beyond to make sure every child is progressing. “We feel that our teachers delve deeper than numbers and get to know the students, their home lives and the factors surrounding them that affect performance at school,” he said. “They believe in educating the whole child — every child.”
Garaway has an enrollment of 1,265 students. Of that number, 188 students are cared for, in some way, by the Special Education Department. “We care for a wide variety of students,” Williams said. There are some students who are non-verbal and others who have hearing impairments and still others with severe cognitive deficiencies or are medically fragile.
To care for those students, a nurse was added at Miller Avenue Elementary on a full-time basis. While this staffer is used to help care for students, they are also key to the district team for health-related needs in general.
Students in grades 4 – 6 at Ragersville and Dundee now have Intervention Room options to complement the rooms for K – 3 and 4 – 6 at both Miller Avenue and Baltic. Sensory rooms were created at both Miller Avenue and Baltic. However, some of the special tools used in those rooms like wiggle chairs are going to be added at Dundee and Ragersville.
There are also specialized Intervention Specialists in the 7 – 12 building. “At the 7 – 12 building we have specialists who are doing an outstanding job getting to know our kids,” Williams stated. “They are then better able to help them with decisions they will need to make about what to do after graduation.”
While most believe that Federal and State funds take care of students in Special Education, the fact is that it doesn’t. “It is the local districts who are mainly responsible for a free appropriate education,” Williams said. The current average per student cost is $7,552 while the cost per special education student is $16,921. The number of students with Special Education needs continues to rise (30 percent in the past 10 years), and with it, the costs associated also rise as do the checks and balances instituted by the government that are often unfunded.
To better serve students, Williams noted Garaway believes they can do so together. “We believe in using a team approach when it comes to Special Education. From the principal to the intervention specialist to the classroom teachers to the parents, our focus is on providing what is best for the child,” he said. “Garaway parents are tremendous. They offer insight into their students and are receptive to change.”
Williams underscored the importance of making sure students are with their mainstream counterparts as much as possible. “We want them in the classroom and out with others at recess and are doing all we can to make sure they are included in everything we do at Garaway.”