Raising a child with special needs, whatever his or her limitations might be, is challenging. Trying to find a program or a school that fulfills all his or her education needs may be even more difficult.
The public school system has specialized programs, but, for some, exploring alternatives outside the public school system just might be the answer.
Does your child’s physical disability prevent him from excelling in daily school activities? Does your child struggle with daily writing activities or come up with excuses to avoid handwriting assignments? Does he have a hard time paying attention in class? Does your child’s confidence seem to be waning? Is your child constantly bullied by other students for her disability?
Here’s how several local families solved those problems:
In general, the No. 1 goal of a private school that specializes in special needs is to offer a comprehensive education program designed to build the academic, social and emotional competence of their students. These programs hope to enable your child to experience success without fear of failure or ridicule.
Private schools aim to provide a focused education for special needs children that primes them for all of the benefits and responsibilities of adulthood. They hope to provide your child with the academic, career and socials skills that are needed to be independent, assertive and contributing citizens of their communities.
Private schools offer individualized attention exceptional students require to achieve their education goals. Schools like The Fletcher School and Dore Academy have been offering services to families with special needs kids in the Charlotte area for many years. Their programs are designed to adapt to the needs of each child as they develop. Philips Academy is a more recent addition to the educational offerings.
Margaret Sigmon, Head of The Fletcher School, says, “Our teachers are diagnostic teachers. Every day they are re-diagnosing where a child is and what that child needs. We call it ‘diagnostic prescriptive teaching,’ which means lesson plans aren’t done a week ahead. If a student doesn’t ‘get it’ one day, the teacher covers the material again the next.”
At Fletcher, students are often encouraged to return to a regular classroom environment as soon as they are ready to be independent and successful learners. Given appropriate remediation in the areas of academic difficulty and adequate practice using strategies for compensation.
This school feels a child can make remarkable gains in academic achievement and develop the self-esteem and self-advocacy skills that allow many to experience success in regular classrooms.
Barbara Parrish, a founding member of Philips Academy, first asked the question “Wouldn’t it be great if Charlotte had a small school with a learning-disabled population of non-college-bound students?” She helped make the dream come true by establishing Philips Academy, a small school presently serving eight students who can remain at the school until they earn their high school diplomas. Here, the goal is for the students to learn to live independently and enter the workforce or a technology program at a community college when they graduate.
Sara Montgomery is an 11th-grader from Davidson, NC, who is living with Asperger’s syndrome and cerebral palsy. Her disability makes handwriting a challenge so she used an AlphaSmart (computer) in her neighborhood school classroom to type assignments.
This made her feel uncomfortable and out of place in the classroom. Most students did not relate to Sara, teasing her and making it difficult for her to concentrate.
“Sara’s self-esteem was down to the floor. She was being picked on at school so much she was pulling her hair out, pulling her eyebrows out and biting her nails down to the quick. She wasn’t doing homework or participating in any classroom discussion,” said Shirley Montgomery, Sara’s mother.
After being threatened by another student, Sara’s family sought an alternative to public schools. They found the solution to their problem in the Laurel Springs School, an accredited distance learning school.
Now Sara is able to attend a private school and excel in the medium that works best with her cerebral palsy. . . “Everyone told me if Sara stayed home all the time she wouldn’t thrive. But it has been the complete opposite. Sara is thriving. She loves working at her own pace,” says Shirley.
Distance learning is not your typical homeschool. It is a type of education where students work on their own at home or at an office and communicate with faculty and other students via e-mail, electronic forums, video conferencing, chat rooms, bulletin boards, instant messaging and other forms of computer-based communication.
One of the benefits of distance learning is the flexibility and delivery of the student’s materials – he or she can read it at their leisure. Students, regardless of their academic level, can study, learn and complete homework at their own pace.
According to Laurel Springs, another benefit of distance learning is the close communication between teacher and student.
Most distance learning students go on to college or a university. Laurel Springs has a complete staff of college advisors to help and encourage their students to achieve higher goals.
Sara was able to learn at her own pace, without the distraction of being picked on by other kids at school. Today, she is confident in her preparation for a college education.
Another online alternative is the Garden Schools, a k-12 distance learning school that incorporates a private Christian school environment in a virtual education. Students interact with teachers and socialize with other students from around the world.