by Kaylee David
Grand Ledge continues to keep special education a priority even though times are tough for education in Michigan.
Stories of Special Education Students and Their Families
Families stay just as involved as students in the Grand Ledge Education system. Marsha Smith, a retired special education teacher of the Ingham County school district said she had the experience of a disabled grandchild living with her for 18 months. During that time she worked with the teachers in Grand Ledge, the program director, the principal, and everyone involved in the school system to help give her granddaughter the best education possible.
“The work that they did was phenomenal”, said Smith. The school went out of their way to make a good special education program for her grandchild. “They bent over backwards,” she said.
“I really have high praise for the Grand Ledge special ed. programs,” said Smith. “They were willing to think outside the box to make sure her grandchild had access to the education to which she was entitled.”
Christy Price said her family moved from the Lansing school district into the Grand Ledge district when daughter, Caitlyn was in 3rd grade. Caitlyn is wheel chair bound and is a 7th grade student at Hayes Middle School in their special education program. Price said they had a great program for her daughter at the school in Lansing, and transferring to Grand Ledge was a change for them both.
“As a whole the program is individualized and it works out pretty well, but there is a slight lack of communication,” said Price. Price said she has to do a lot of reminding and proactive communicating with Caitlyn’s teachers.
In Smith’s experience as a special education teacher, she said that it is important for the parents to give advice to the teachers and special education staff as to what would best benefit the child as an individual.
Smith said it is also important to acknowledge the “delivery system”, the tactics used for communicating and teaching the special needs child. “There are so many new things we can do, from using technology at home, or hiring an outside tutoring firm, using homebound teachers, or having the child come in after school hours.”
Eleventh grader Leah McCobbin is a partially deaf student at Grand Ledge High School. She said that she goes to tutoring after school where she spends extra time working with teachers and other students.
“People don’t realize it is a lot harder for me, I have to listen very carefully and catch up a lot quicker and get a lot more information,” she said.
“I may be a person, but at the same time I am different and I need people to know that I need a lot more help.” McCobbin said that her teachers and other students do a good job at making her feel comfortable at school, “it’s a great system here, I feel a lot safer, get a lot more information and I am happy.”
Strategies of Special Education Programs
Special Education programs are individualized to the child; different schools use many different tactics to assist special needs children.
Lansing focused more on the physical needs of the children in the special education program, said Price. They focused on what their handicap needed, they got their swimming and other physical therapies in during school.
The difference Price found in Grand Ledge was their particular focuses are on the academic aspect of the special needs children, said Price.
Sara (Bolt) Witmer an associate professor at the School of Psychology at Michigan State University said that a lot of the work in schools is one-on-one with the special needs children.
“My research has involved primary assessment, and I do a lot work with thinking about assessment for students with special needs such as students with disabilities,” said Witmer.
There are certain types of assessments that are used to identify particularly students with learning disabilities, which is a large portion of students receiving special education services, she said.
Witmer works with the psychologists in schools around the Lansing area to find ways of assessing students to see if they have a learning disability. Typically students go through a number of achievement testing to see if they qualify for special education.
Training Undergraduate Students in the Special Education Field
At Michigan State University’s College of Education, undergraduate students are taught how to approach special education and help it progress in a positive direction.
Witmer said she trains students in the College of Education to be flexible in a variety of different roles, ranging from teaching to mentoring and just establishing good relationships with special needs children.
“In reality what they [students] do is they become increasingly good problem solvers, increasingly good communicators, increasingly good at seeing abilities versus differences,” said Harold Johnson, Professor of Deaf Education at MSU.
Witmer said it is important to find out in each specific student what the root of the difficulty is, then they can move forward and help the child develop the basic skills that they lack. “It is important for the MSU students to begin field work early on, their practicum and their course work is integrated into progress together, which is better than throwing the students out in the field the last few years of study.”
Adjusting to Budget Cuts
Budget cuts have certainly made a difference in the field of special education and education in general, said Johnson.
The role and responsibilities of colleges like Michigan State are changing, it used to be 70% of the costs for colleges were paid for by the state and now you have about 35% that is paid for by the state and the rest comes out of the students tuition, said Johnson.
The other important aspect of budget cuts are research grants, “research is wonderful because it brings a lot of money to the university,” said Johnson. One of the difficulties in education is that the funds for research grants are there, but at a very different kind of focus. The focus is upon finding the next piece of information, as opposed to taking what we know and using it to produce the best possible teachers, said Johnson.
Interview with Professor Johnson at MSU’s School of Education.