March 16, 2017, Wednesday, Day 4
Kevin O’Grady School, Northshore Education Consortium, Beverly, MA.
We continued our visits organized as a part of Social Expertise Exchange grant of Eurasia Foundation. Our next stop was Kevin O’Grady School is a school for youth with developmental disabilities located in Beverly, MA.
The school serves students from 3 to 22 years old with moderate or severe disabilities and special needs.
Students with exceptional needs include those with complex medical needs, physical disabilities, multiple disabilities, visual and hearing impairment, autism and intellectual disabilities.
It starts with preschool for children 3 to 6 years old, all with special needs. Tutors work with kids in integrated classrooms and teach them communication, social, emotional, self-help skills and skills they will need when they transit to school or specialized programs. All classes are led in the form of playing and fun. Classrooms are equipped with sensory stations, climbing structures, swings, toys. We were invited to stay during one of the classes. It was a group of eight kids with different kind of disabilities assisted by four tutors which means each tutor worked with two kids. The part of the class we were at kids and teachers were singing a song repeating words with movements. Teachers paid attention to all kids in the class helping those who experienced difficulties. During the play they used feathers and other soft materials. Seemed kids like that a lot.
After 6 years old the program splits in two: ACCESS – for students with multiple disabilities and complex medical needs, age 6-22 and REACH – program for students with autism, developmental or intellectual disabilities. Both programs provide the whole range of services (educational, medical, and recreational) to students depending on their disabilities and objectives of IEP (Individualized educational plans).
Students of ACCESS are actively involved in daily routines, activities and experiences to the extent that provides optimal levels of stimulation required to increase quality of life. Nursing services and therapies are integrated in the classroom for those students who require additional care. Each student in the program aimed to reach objectives set in Individualized Education Plans.
Students of REACH acquire social, academic, communication, emotional and self-help skills they need to reach their full potential. Adaptations, including sensory diets, augmentative communication systems, adaptive equipment and environmental supports, enable students to engage actively in learning.
Students aged 14 transit into TARGET program that serves adolescents and young adults aged 14-22 with autism or intellectual impairments. On this stage of the program students, in addition to communicational, academic and other skills, begin practicing skills needed to become active members of the community. They do it in school-based vocational centers that really impressed me by how smart and well-structured they are and how thoughtful and systematic they are organized. The main idea of these classes is breaking each task or activity into small steps to make it easier and workable for students. Repeating same activities again and again the students acquire basic skills that may be used in everyday life and at workplace. All of them undergo comprehensive vocational assessment to identify their skills, strengths and vocational interests. Vocational centers include Training Center, Recycle, Supply and Delivery, Clerical and Prime Products. Each of these centers located in classrooms equipped with materials and equipment to imitate close to reality work conditions (for instance post office, recycling, storage etc). Students work in classes and do the tasks individually set for them by the teachers and under teachers’ supervision. Job skills include: recycling paper, cans and bottles, stocking shelves, making items to sell and preparing mailings.
One the other hand school staff support parents during transition period and completing guardianship process.
To ensure transitions Kevin O’Grady has Transition Planning and Assessment team that begins to work with a student prior he or she is turning 14 and throughout their participation in the program. The team finds best ways to prepare each single child for life beyond school and what seemed most important for me keep students individual interests and preferences on top of program priorities.
Kevin O’Grady offers many other programs and activities for its students but what is the most important thing it gives every student with different kinds of disabilities to integrate in the community as it’s active participants, be employed and do what they like and prefer. This is the core difference of the approach to disabled people in US and Russia where people with disabilities have a very few chances to become part of society on an equal basis with other people. Lot’s of work yet to be done for us.