Lets Work Together to Keep Our Most Challenged Students in Traditional Schools

Nov 2, 2011 by

By Michael Kaufman
President & CEO
Specialized Education Services Inc.

 

With the alarming increase in autism and other disabilities in the United States, as well as evolving curricula that focuses more and more on individualized learning, parents are looking at private specialized schools as viable options to help students with behavioral issues and learning challenges.

By Michael Kaufman President & CEO Specialized Education Services Inc.

In this different environment, in which students benefit from catered instruction in much smaller class sizes, it is the hope of public school officials that these children can be placed on a path where they can graduate high school and even attend college to learn a valuable profession.

Such decisions to send students outside the school district are not taken lightly; most school districts only consider it when there is no other option. This demographic is tiny, representing only 100,000 students among the 60 million now enrolled in America’s public schools. Tuition and transportation costs are expensive for these placements, and there is the stigma that each student must bear among his or her friends for being “sent out.”

But just as public schools continue to evolve, so do specialized schools.

I now operate 48 schools in 11 states around the country; most of which are in a partnership with school districts. There’s a common misperception that we take the students from the public schools and then try to keep them away, in separate schools, for as long as possible.

Rather, it’s the direct opposite. The focus of specialized schools should be to work as closely as possible with the public schools, even encouraging the students to participate in after-school clubs and sport teams with their friends enrolled in the public school.

Why? Because at Specialized Education Services Inc. (SESI) and other schools with the same thinking, the goal is to have the students returned to the mainstream as quickly as possible. Often, we are working with students who are up to seven years behind their grade level. So, through intensive learning, we need to accomplish more in a few weeks than a school district would accomplish in a few months.

We use our limited time with the students to identify the real issues, work with their families, outside professionals and the school district to devise workable solutions and then return these kids to the sending schools – hopefully all within a year or two.

Toward this lofty goal, we even look to open our schools within the same neighborhoods where our students attended public schools. We have schools in the center of such cities as Pittsburgh, Washington D.C. and Baltimore to ensure the kids remain in the community fabric, which is a key strategy to easing their transition back into the public schools.

Moreover, in 12 of the schools that we operate, our teachers are actually placed within the traditional public school. In schools in Maryland and Connecticut, SESI students spend time with our teachers during the day to learn the core curriculum, such as math and science, but then mingle with friends for lunch, recess, gym and all other aspects of the school day. Such an arrangement is a win-win, as tuition costs are considerably lower and students have an easier time transitioning from SESI back to the regular school cycle.

To help these kids as much as possible, we need to build a solid bridge between public schools and specialized schools, creating a true public-private partnership across the U.S. A key component is the in-district partnership, where our specialists can work hand-in-hand with teachers and administrators in the public school, sharing best practices and working together to enhance the students’ overall educational experience.

As the students are our shared priority, this can never be about pointing fingers or focusing on who is responsible for perceived failures. Each side has their own experts and assets that need to be leveraged for the best interest of the child. And there needs to be dedicated professionals on all sides who truly enjoy working with these students and collaborating with fellow professionals.

Educators often say that every student has the potential to make contributions to society, no matter what disabilities they face. But they cannot be expected to succeed when they are simply handed off as someone else’s problem.

It’s become trite, but, yes, it does take a village to serve our most challenged students. And that begins with the entire education team pulling together to ensure at-risk kids stay within the mainstream for as long as possible.

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