Posted in the Brattleboro Forum
#1 Dec 20, 2013
Jesus, Joanne and I got a lot of news print space this year.
#2 Dec 20, 2013
New system in Keene aims to better identify young children with special needsBy KAITLIN MULHERE Sentinel Staff
Posted on December 13, 2013
by Kaitlin Mulhere
Spurred by the closing of a preschool classroom for the city’s low-income families, the Keene School District’s preschool staff developed a new system to ensure they’re finding all the young children in Keene who need special services.
Next month, Wheelock School, which houses the district’s preschool, will host a free developmental screening for children ages 2˝ to 5 years old.
When preschool coordinator Joanne Mulligan learned that Head Start, a preschool program for low-income families, was closing one of its Keene classrooms this year due to federal budget cuts, she was concerned.
Statistics show that between 20 and 25 percent of students in a class will qualify for some sort of special education services, she said. Mulligan worried that there’d be a group of children who would have been identified for extra services through Head Start who now might not be enrolled in any preschool program at all.
“Every program in Keene is jam-packed or it’s too expensive,” Mulligan said.
Public school districts are required by law to provide special education services for any child age 2˝ to 21 years old who has a disability that interferes with learning.
Once children reach 5 years old and start kindergarten, it’s easier to locate the students who might need, for example, extra speech and language instruction or occupational therapy.
But the sooner children with special needs or developmental delays receive services, the better, and that’s why early intervention is so important, said Wheelock School Principal Gwen S. Mitchell.
“They’re not buzzwords,” she said.“That’s the reality.”
Brains are more pliable in young children, Mulligan said. For example, the language development window starts to close by the time a child reaches 7 years old, she said.
Mulligan and Mitchell said they believe they already reach most of the children who have developmental delays through outreach with hospitals, pediatricians and other preschools in the area.
#3 Dec 20, 2013
Still, school staff had wanted to upgrade the preschool child find system, and extra professional development time the district provided this year through early release days offered preschool staff the opportunity to work together.
In January, the school will host a free developmental screening for any young child in Keene between the ages of 2˝ and 5 years old who seems to have difficulty learning. Children will play with a teacher, speech pathologist and possibly an occupational therapist, depending on their ages. Young children will be tested more on social skills. Older children will have to display their fine motor skills, such as their ability to use scissors or scribble with markers.
After the screening, the team will schedule further evaluations for children who appear to have delays to determine what type of services they need. Parents also will leave with information describing typical development stages and behaviors.
Mulligan and Mitchell said they have no idea how many new preschool students the screening might yield.
Right now, there are 72 students enrolled in the district’s preschool program, with three morning classrooms and three afternoon classrooms. The preschool is a mixture of typically developing students, who pay tuition to the program, and children with developmental delays.
The school also has a traveling teacher who works with 35 students enrolled in other preschool programs in the city.
Most special needs children have delayed speech and language skills, but there are also students with chronic medical needs, physical disabilities and emotional disabilities.
The school aims to have a ratio of 60 percent typically developing students to 40 percent special needs students.
“That gets really fuzzy toward the end of the year,” Mulligan said.
As soon as a child who needs special services turns 3, the district is required to start providing for that child, no matter the time of the year.
Last year, the preschool ended with 92 students. This year, Mulligan predicts they’ll surpass the 100 mark. That’s probably triple the amount of students enrolled in the program when Mulligan first started working for the district in 1999.
After the district’s winter break, Mulligan and Mitchell plan to pass out brochures and post ads anywhere around the city where families might spend time to raise awareness for the free development screening in January.
They don’t want to post the information before the break for fear that they might miss a phone call while the school is closed.
“It’s tough for parents to say,‘I’m worried about my child,’” Mitchell said. Sometimes they just don’t know what to do, and sometimes they only work up the courage to call and admit they need help once, she said.
Parents can refer children, but so can other family members, doctors, child care providers or community agencies.
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