Classrooms: Granby schools offer ‘inclusion model’ to keep special needs students in district

  • Occupational Therapy Assistant Michelle Fleury works with Granby seventh grader J.P. Curran-Jeffers in the Structured Learning Center at the Junior Senior High School on Monday, March 12, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Structured Learning Center teacher Lesley Mahoney, left, and Hector Medina of the May Center School talk with the Gazette at Granby Junior Senior High School on Monday, March 12, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Structured Learning Center teacher Lesley Mahoney.

  • Occupational Therapy Assistant Michelle Fleury works with Granby seventh grader J.P. Curran-Jeffers in the Structured Learning Center at the Junior Senior High School on Monday, March 12, 2018. Behind them are SLC teacher Lesley Mahoney, Hector Medina of the May Center School and Granby Schools Director of Pupil Services Carol Hepworth. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Granby Public Schools autism support teacher Lynn Pollard talks with the Gazette at West Street School on Monday, March 12, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • West Street Elementary School paraprofessional Maureen Lempke sits with first-grader Evan Chapdelaine during a break from lessons March 12 at the Granby school. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Granby West Street School paraprofessional Maureen Lempke helps first grader Evan Chapdelaine with a relaxing game during a break from lessons on Monday, March 12, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Granby West Street School kindergartner Shawn McDermott, left, joins circle time in a class lead by substitute teacher Rhonda Fabricius on Monday, March 12, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • West Street Elementary School kindergartner Shawn McDermott joins circle time in a class led by substitute teacher Rhonda Fabricius, March 12, in Granby. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Board Certified Behaviorial Analyst Joanne Craig.

  • Director of Pupil Services Carol Hepworth. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Speech Pathologist Heather Hackett asks Granby West Street School second grader Callen Gallagher to show her something on an AAC, or augmentative and alternative communication, device on Monday, March 12, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Granby Elementary Schools Principal William Lataille and autism support teacher Lynn Pollard chat in the hallway of West Street School on Monday, March 12, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Granby Elementary Schools Principal William Lataille, center, autism support teacher Lynn Pollard, left, and Carol Hepworth, Director of Pupil Services, chat in the hallway of West Street School on Monday, March 12, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Granby West Street School paraprofessional Maureen Lempke sits down with first grader Evan Chapdelaine during a break from his lessons on Monday, March 12, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hector Medina of the May Center School.

  • Jennifer Lingenberg of the May Center School.

  • Autism support teacher Lynn Pollard. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Granby West Street School paraprofessional Maureen Lempke works with first grader Evan Chapdelaine on Monday, March 12, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 3/20/2018 11:23:57 PM

GRANBY — Children learn best when they can learn alongside their peers.

This is the philosophy behind a new “inclusion model” at Granby’s public schools, one in which students of all abilities share the same classroom. The district adopted this educational trend for two main reasons: officials believe it’s the best way to serve students with special needs, while also keeping them in the district.

“Parents, I don’t think, want their kids to go to a special school,” said Carol Hepworth, director of pupil services for the Granby school district. “By us providing this service here, we’re giving them everything they can get at an out-of-district placement.”

In the last two years, Granby has introduced two new inclusion programs; one for autistic students in preschool through third grade, and a social and emotional learning program for students in seventh through 12th grade.

“They’re both about keeping kids in public schools with their peers learning alongside their peers, so it’s inclusion,” Hepworth said.

The goal of Granby’s inclusion programs are to help students with special needs keep up with their peers in the classroom and learn skills essential for life outside the classroom. This means having students attend regular classes as much as they are able to, completing assigned homework and tests and graduating on time.

Students with disabilities or acute social and emotional needs can attend schools like Hampshire Educational Collaborative in Northampton, The May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in West Springfield or the Valley West School in Chicopee. However, when students leave the district, public schools often pick up part of the tab.

According to data provided by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Granby school district had 13 special needs students in 2017 requiring more than $1.2 million in services and out-of-district placement.

Four students currently participate in the elementary autism program and six in the high school’s social and emotional learning program after some graduated last year.

“As much as we are able to, our goal is to keep Granby students in Granby,” Superintendent Sheryl Stanton said in an interview last month.

Elementary Autism Program

A small tent, bean bag chairs and colorful plastic toys occupy a bright classroom at the West Street Elementary School. A new program introduced this year, the Elementary Autism Program, serves four students both in the classroom, and in this colorful room.

Before the introduction of the program, West Street School hired one part-time behavior analyst to help students on the spectrum, meaning they have some form of autism. When this proved not to be enough for one student, Hepworth had the idea to craft a program for autistic students with inclusion in mind.

“Last year the kids struggled here, we didn’t have a program, so they spent a lot of time outside the classroom,” Hepworth said.

Nonverbal students learn to use iPads as communication devices, while others receive help with toilet training and basic hygiene. All have individualized education plans and two paraprofessionals to work with them on-on-one in morning and afternoon shifts.

“My greatest joy is watching them make gains,” said Lynn Pollard, a special education teacher at the elementary school. “And sometimes it isn’t until you see them doing what other kids are doing, whether it be modified or not, that they’re successful as well.”

Stephanie Longtin, a Granby resident and mother of three, is raising a 4-year-old son with mild autism. Next fall, Bentlee Hauschild will start kindergarten in the new wing of the East Meadow Elementary School, with the autism program at his disposal.

“I’m pretty happy with the progress he has made,” Longtin said, of the half-day Bentlee spends in preschool where he receives some speech therapy and academic support. “I never would have thought it was autism, it never would have crossed my mind.”

She is glad to see her son graduate to kindergarten, because it means full school days. Twice now, Bentlee has been rejected by day care providers seeing him as too much of a challenge.

“I definitely think they need some more activities for special needs kids,” Longtin said. “Especially at this age, because finding outside help with child care and trying to work a full-time job, and be a mother and take care of a household is really difficult.”

Each student’s day in the elementary autism program starts with a one-on-one morning meeting, then an exercise like drawing, calendar reading or show-and-tell. Students then attend regular classes as much as they are able, always with a paraprofessional ready to help.

“I like that we’re helping students at their own level to be independent and to address the curriculum and learn skills to help them be with their peers,” Pollard said.

Pollard oversees all programming in the autism program, which is implemented by a team of eight paraprofessionals.

“The addition of this program this year has made a humongous difference,” said East Meadow Principal William Lataille. “One of the things we’re really focusing on this year is student growth with every student, across the schools.”

Lataille and Hepworth also mentioned the possibility of a “best buddies” program between the elder sixth-graders and autism program students in the new shared building.

Social and emotional learning: 7th-12th

The social and emotional learning program at Granby Junior Senior High School is in its second year of providing students academic and therapeutic support for a wide variety of reasons.

“Some go to all their classes and only use the learning center for support,” Hepworth said. “Others have core classes in the structured learning center because the regular classroom is overwhelming.”

When students choose to stay in the structured learning center, they are guided by Lesley Mahoney, the high school’s social and emotional learning program’s teacher. With degrees in English, social studies and special education, Mahoney was the only Granby teacher to receive the Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation this year.

“We allow students to access grade level curriculum with academic and therapeutic supports,” Mahoney said. “So they’re able to attend classes with their peers and also have an area if they need extra help.”

A range of social and emotional needs, including depression, anxiety, autism or a challenging home life can justify a student’s participation in the structured learning program. Every week, students meet with counselors one-on-one and again in a group setting to help work through outside issues affecting their performance in the classroom.

“It’s always about the least restrictive setting,” said Hector Medina, a program coordinator and case manager. “That’s why we’re here in the district, to help provide that. We believe that students should be in class with their peers. They should have the same opportunities as others. They should have attainable goals to succeed in life.”

The social and emotional learning program is offered in collaboration with School Based Services, a special education service offered through the Center School in Holyoke.

“We bring the out-of-district modality into school,” said Jennifer Lingenberg, a School Based Services program coordinator. “You meet the kids where they’re at, and then you provide for them whatever services they need.”

School Based Services staff are experienced helping students with a wide range of disabilities, making them versatile educators to have in the classroom.

“The skills that they learn with us are also skills they can take with them beyond high school and into the community,” Lingenberg said.

“We’re constantly communicating, talking and meeting about a student’s progress,” Medina said. “It’s very data-driven, we have a lot of goals that are set in place for the students, also just based on the things they want to do.”

Joanne Craig, a board certified behavioral analyst who started with the district two months ago, says keeping data helps improve both the high school and elementary school’s inclusion programs over time.

“If we can figure out why they’re acting out then we can come up with a behavior plan that works well for them so we can start to reduce the inappropriate behaviors and increase more prosocial behaviors,” Craig said.

Circuit Breaker program

Granby’s ability to offer specialized education services is tied to state funding from the Special Education Circuit Breaker program, which reimburses schools for 65 percent of the cost for special education, after schools pay a baseline cost of $43,094 per special education student.

According to Rob O’Donnell of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education finance office, $280 million was earmarked for the program for 2018.

On average, special education costs Granby about $1.3 million annually, according to Hepworth.

Reimbursement for the 2017 fiscal year, a total of $426,976 from the Circuit Breaker program, will be paid in quarterly increments throughout this school year.

State aid for the Granby School District is expected to decrease by $102,343 in the coming fiscal year, according to John Libera, chairman of the Granby Finance Committee. The state funding for the school, $5,188,458, represents about 84 percent of the town’s total state aid, Libera said.

“Maybe they should make a program with the colleges to take college students who are working on this to get them involved with the schools,” Longtin said.

According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, state funding for local aid fell 58 percent between 1982 and 2012, adjusting for economic growth. 

Despite these budget constraints, as illustrated by a recent town vote to spend $104,585 to cover unanticipated special education expenses, Granby’s public schools are using the inclusion model to keep quality special education in the district.

“It’s where we’re heading as a district,” Lataille said of the district’s inclusion program. “And our philosophy is, we talked about it, you know, that they’re all our students, everybody is everybody’s student.”

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com.

Editor’s Note: This story was corrected on March 21, 2018, to note that School Based Services is a service offered by the Center School in Holyoke.




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