Not all students follow a similar path in school. Students who have behavioural, communication, intellectual, physical or multiple exceptionalities may require special education programs and/or services to benefit fully from their school experience.
Special education programs and services consist primarily of instruction and assessments different from those provided to the general student population. These may take the form of accommodation (such as specific teaching strategies, preferential seating, and assistive technology) and/or an educational program that is modified from the age-appropriate grade level expectations in a particular course or subject, as outlined in the Ministry of Education curriculum.
Some students requiring special education may be in a segregated school especially designed to meet their needs. In our ward Sunny View Jr & Sr. P.S. on Blythwood Rd and Park Lane P.S. in the Bridle Path area serve children with multiple exceptionalities. Many are in wheelchairs, are non-verbal, and are often medically fragile. Other children may go to neighbouring schools for intensive programming because they are hearing-impaired or are on the autism spectrum. Most students requiring special education, however, are served in their local schools in what we refer to as the Home School Program.
Every school in Leaside has a Home School Program, and this program is different in each school. Currently students may leave their regular class for a half a day and work with a special education teacher and then return to their regular class. Some remain in their classrooms and only leave for targeted language intervention, while others receive special tools and consideration by their regular teacher.
Technological innovations have helped teachers to better support specific learning needs. For example, at Bessborough E. & M.S. they use software such as Read and Write Gold and One Note. Students also use various apps like Explain Everything to demonstrate learning. There is voice to text software and the availability of audio and headphones and videos to enhance understanding and amplify sound.
At Bennington Heights E.S. teachers are focusing on early intervention. With the support of the speech and language pathologist, teachers assess all the senior kindergarten children for literacy skills near the end of the school year to determine if their skills are age appropriate and at grade level. If not, specific strategies are put in place in grade 1 to close learning gaps. Workshops for parents and PD sessions for teachers are led by a social worker throughout the year to address self-regulation and social and emotional concerns.
Parents and students welcome the focused attention on specific learning requirements, however separating students from their regular classmates even if they are in their own school can create stigma. That is one of the reasons the TDSB is now looking at different ways to provide the Home School Program for special education in a more inclusive way.
As the school board moves towards this goal, parents can be confident that the Board will be examining the most effective practices based on sound research. We want all our students to enjoy learning, and to achieve. As a result, children may be supported differently – in their own classroom or in small group sessions. The TDSB education experts are determined to improve the learning experience for students who need special assistance. They will be working with classroom teachers and parents toward that goal.
The Special Education Department is looking for your input. Please take a moment to open the link and take the survey. Community contributions are always valued and help to influence decisions that the Board is considering making.
Gerri Gershon is the Trustee, Don Valley West, for the Toronto District School Board