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Schools offer services for kids with specific needs
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Heidi Rider, Joe Bagwell and Heather Roth listen to a guest speaker during a meeting at the Hall County Board of Education building on Friday. - photo by Erin O. Smith

In one classroom, you might find a child with dyslexia, another with autism and another with a physical disability.

All of these children are capable of learning and succeeding in school, but they may need a little extra help to do it.

Local schools have extensive processes to determine the needs of an individual student and how best to support that student, according to school officials.

The needs

At Chestatee High School, the first step toward meeting a child’s needs is collaboration between parents and a school counselor.

“We will make sure those needs are met, whether those are dietary needs or if they are physical needs,” Principal Suzanne Jarrard said. “We have some students who need a particular desk. We have some students who need to sit in a particular area of the room. We have some students with medical needs.

“We have a variety of things we are called upon to meet.”

In Gainesville City Schools, parents can address their child’s needs during the registration process.

“Just this week, we had a new student register and we found out he requires extra attention,” Principal Will Campbell of Fair Street School said. “So often, the first day when the parents come, we have an opportunity to ask what special things we need to know about.”

Campbell said the sooner a school knows about a condition, the sooner they can make helpful choices for students by placing them in the right classroom.

Johnson High School counselor Heather Roth said classroom placement is critical in ensuring students succeed, so they try to put them in “the least restrictive environment” possible. Some students may be in one remedial subject; others may need to be in a self-contained class.

“We figure out what this child needs to work at the level they are capable of, to work at the level of everybody else,” Roth said.

Jarrard said at Chestatee, a response to a need may be as simple as giving a diabetic child “a buddy” to walk him or her to the nurse if they’re suffering from low blood sugar.

A child’s needs may be academic, behavioral or physical, and the “intervention” varies in each case.

“It depends on what kind of special care they need,” said Robin Gower, principal of Tadmore Elementary School. “If it’s academic and they’ve been in school somewhere else, we can be made aware of an issue. But sometimes, if they are a kindergartener or there’s no history, we can’t.”


The response

In the case of academic needs, an “individualized education plan” is developed for the student. Campbell said the purpose of the plan, called an IEP, is “to level the playing field for that child.”

Gower said IEPs take into account the child’s history and collected data to determine where the child is struggling academically and how to help.

Sometimes this determination can take months, she said.

At Chestatee, an IEP comes with a one-on-one academic coach.

“Each student, if they have an IEP, has a caseload manager, or an adult in the building that is assigned to them,” Jarrard said. “At our school, that person follows them all four years so they have the same person looking out for their needs all four years.”

Gower said response to behavioral needs is actually quite similar to academic needs and also includes an IEP.

Roth said students with academic or behavioral problems will often meet with a counselor for support.

“We might help with emotional needs like anxiety, which is becoming a bigger impediment for kids these days,” she said. “We would be the place they go when they have issues in the classroom to help with coping skills, so they can get back in the classroom and be successful.”

Campbell said sometimes, a behavioral or physical need requires paraprofessional support. Paraprofessionals are hired at the district level, and some are paid through Title I funds.

A similar system is used in Hall County.

“If a child is in a wheelchair and not capable of maneuvering by themselves — and that’s the only thing, there’s no academic issue — sometimes that requires a paraprofessional if there are extensive physical needs,” Gower said. “Then we go through the special education program.”

Jarrard said many people would be surprised by the variety of student needs schools try to meet every day.

“We may even have a homeless student with clothing needs that we’ve met,” Jarrard said.

Roth, Campbell and Gower agreed this individual attention is a team effort, including numerous counselors, teachers and administrators.

“Any time we make a plan for a child, the parents are involved, the teacher, the administration, a counselor, sometimes a social worker, or occupational therapists— anybody who is going to be involved with that child is at the table,” Gower said.

“We come around the table and advocate for, ‘Who is this student? What is his need? And what are we going to do about it?’” Campbell said. “It’s about getting all the people around the table who can support that child.”

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