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Florence 1 Schools Implementing National Best Practices in Special Education

Education News
Florence 1 Schools
319 S. Dargan Street
Florence, SC 29506

 

Florence 1 Schools implementing national best practices in special education

Teacher and two students FLORENCE--Under the new leadership of Dr. Richard O’Malley, Florence 1 Schools is moving special education to the forefront of the district’s agenda, moving toward creating more learning opportunities in creative ways and fostering inclusive learning environments in all of their schools.

Inclusive classrooms have students from differing abilities receiving instruction at the same time instead of isolating students with learning challenges.

Brian Denny, Director of Programs for Exceptional Children, said that several new programs have been put into place specifically to facilitate the classroom inclusion including:

  • Goalbook
  • Rethink

Goalbook is a tool that teachers utilize to track student progress.

“This will allow teachers to make a more meaningful Individualized Education Plan (IEP),” Denny said. “They can track the data points to set goals for the student; they can also use that data to make sure that the student is meeting their goals.”

Rethink is an online curriculum that will be used by students with Autism as a supplement to their in-person classroom instruction. The lessons are planned according to what each child is learning and their unique challenges. Rethink lessons will focus on the social and communication skills necessary for a student to be successful inside and outside the classroom.

These two programs fit into the district’s strategy of inclusive teaching and learning practices by keeping them with their peers rather than putting them in separate special education classrooms or continually taking them out for specialized instruction.

Classroom inclusion is just one part of the district’s revamping of their Applied Behavior Analyst (ABA) services.

“We want to make this program more substantial and for students to do more things in the classroom,” Denny said. “A lot of these students are pulled for Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Speech and ABA. We want to try to keep them with their typically developing peers but, really, we just want to keep them in the classroom, whatever classroom that may be.”

Denny said that all special education teachers have been trained how to implement ABA methods.

“ABA works on behavior-type skills, how you interact with other children, how to interact with adults,” Denny said. “Instead of them learning that in isolation and hoping that it carries over into the classroom, we are trying to incorporate that into the daily routine of the classroom. To have them getting that multiple different ways, and getting it every day, will hopefully help to reinforce that. We are training teaching assistants, too. That way, everyone in the classroom is being trained about what to do and how to interact with the students.”

Other items in the district’s plan include

  • Adaptive Playground Equipment
  • Job Skills Training
  • A Premier Special Education School

Providing adaptive playground equipment, usable by students with all types of abilities, continues the inclusivity strategy outside of the classroom.

“We are looking at existing schools as well as any new schools,” Denny said. “Schools that are built from here on out will include adaptive equipment. We want all students to feel like they belong and that they can enjoy the playground with their peers.”Teacher with group of students

The district will also look to partner with the business sector to accomplish this.

For students on non-diploma tracks, the district is expanding their job skills training program. Wilson High School has a coffee shop run by students in their Autism class where students prepare coffee using a Keurig and sell it to peers, school staff and faculty. There are also students receiving job training at McLeod Regional Medical Center.

In an expansion of the partnership with McLeod, Florence 1 Schools will be rolling out Project Search, a nation-wide transition-to-work program that puts special needs students in environments where they get skills training and job experience that will help them gain employment in the future.

Denny said that Florence 1 will have students in several areas of service at the hospital.

“We already have some students working at McLeod through our employability program,” Denny said. “Project Search adds an extra layer of employability certification. This is the right thing to do for those students. If we can give them an opportunity where they can have what could be a life-long career that is our main goal.”

Areas that students could potentially work in include food services, housekeeping and surgery prep. A planning meeting will be held in November; between 8 and 10 students are expected to be selected for the first class of participants.

“These are the students, sometimes, who get written off because someone thinks they can’t perform the same tasks as their typically developing peers,” Denny said. “I think they can do a whole lot and we want to give them an opportunity to do that.”

The district has received an $8,000 grant to cover half the cost of starting Project Search.
O’Malley has also said that he wants the district to explore facility and program options to accommodate innovative therapies that cannot be accomplished in the traditional school setting.

“We want to be known for our special education programs and to build upon creating a premier, 21st century, special education school,” O’Malley said. “Where our kids can have more hands-on learning and get non-traditional therapies.”