Small classes allow individualized learning

Q: What brought you to work in Special Education at a Charter Public School?

A: I started my career in early childhood special ed, and I really loved it, but I really wanted to see all ages and I wanted to work with kids that lived in the city. So, that’s what drew me to St. Louis. Premier Charter School educates children from Kindergarten through the 8th grade which was a good fit for me

Q:Who are the children you work with?

A: We have a pretty high population of SPED kids here and we have kids with all different kinds of diagnoses. I think it’s close to 20%. Our big push here is to meet every student where they are and we do really push for inclusion.  We have a lot of kids that are included in the regular ed classrooms, that either has push-in services, or that leave the classroom for special ed minutes or therapy.

Q What types of supports do Premier Charter School offer Special Education students?

A: We have a really rich staff of different disciplines. Of course, we have special ed teachers, but we also have ELL teachers, behavior specialists, a play therapist, counselors, social workers. We also have three part-time Occupational Therapists, two full-time speech therapists, a contracted physical therapist, and a vision itinerant. And, we also have Sabrina the service dog! She’s new this year which is pretty exciting.

Q: Well it sounds like that’s a huge staff dedicated to special education; is that typical?

A: I don’t know if that's necessarily typical. And some of those positions are newer this year just because we were anticipating having just more needs of the students, academic, and social-emotional.

Q: Since the pandemic, have you seen kids struggling more?

A: Since the pandemic, we’ve been seeing a lot of students have a loss of regulation in the classroom. They’re just struggling to be a student in the classroom, learning how to get along with others, and navigate the school day. But, you know, for a lot of these kids, they didn’t have preschool or a kindergarten year, so even in first grade, it’s their first experience at school. So, we’re really working to do the Zones of Regulation program, and having morning meetings with these students to really just create a connection and a family environment in the classroom to make all kids feel safe.

  1. What type of classroom supports are available?

We have flexible seating and sensory supports in the classroom. In fact, this year in our early childhood building there are swings put up in the classrooms and some common spaces. Every classroom has some new rocking chairs that are really calming. There are some weighted lap pads, there’s noise-canceling headphones, every classroom has a calming corner, and a safe space for kids to be.

Q: How important is it to connect with the families?

A: It's very, very important. With the special ed process we have a meeting at the beginning of the year, and we do that with all the students, but we’re able to meet the parents then and we’re able to hear what they think are the strengths of their kid, what their goals are for their students. And then we have yearly IEP meetings, but we also have quarter conferences, where the special ed team goes to those conferences to talk with the parents about progress or concerns they might have.

Q: What are some of the strengths of the charter school?

A:  One of our biggest strengths is that everybody here works as a team and everybody really gives it their all. We see every student as a unique person and there is no prescribed protocol.  like if you have a student with autism, they get these services. We really do look at each student and see what they need as a person.

Q: Do you have any favorite stories about any of your kids that have really flourished?

A: I once had a second-grade student who was really struggling in the classroom academically, emotionally, and behaviorally. We were able to find out that he really had an interest in people who were homeless. He would pass homeless people every day on the way to school and it really bothered him. We were able to create a whole service project around homelessness and this student became a leader, hanging signs asking for donations, and collecting supplies to help that population. We saw a real shift in him in the classroom after that. I think that just speaks to looking at each child individually.

Q: Do you offer Professional Development?

A: Absolutely, and we are seeing that our coaching program builds confidence in our teachers. I think it has helped make them feel more connected to the other teachers, their peers. We also have a coaching program for para-professionals which is really special. Last year we did a book study with the book, "The Whole-Brain Child," by Daniel Siegel.  This encouraged deep discussion and we learned more about the whole brain child and some strategies to help when working one-on-one with students.