Imagine a high school where the entire student body isn’t aware that 20 percent of the students are enrolled in special education or SPED classes. It’s the dream of all parents of those with special needs to not be isolated from other students…and the desire of every parent that varying levels of educational needs not detract from any student.
At Learn4Life, that inclusivity has been the status quo for more than 22 years. This network of 80+ public high schools offers personalized instruction, so in effect, all students receive the same benefit as an individualized education plan (IEP), a requirement to serve students with disabilities in schools.
“Our model is a flexible schedule in a non-classroom setting, so every student is learning at their own pace, and they come and go at different times. No one pays attention to what the other students are doing, just how they themselves are improving,” said Heather Stuve, senior director of SPED services at Learn4Life. “Students with disabilities are assigned SPED teachers, but most students don’t notice which students are with which teachers.”
Many students with disabilities who have been sent to special schools or classrooms have endured years of isolation. Like Hailey who was diagnosed as autistic when she was six. In high school, she was placed in a group with other autistic students, but without a plan tailored to her strengths. She was bored, and recalls being treated like a baby, spending time on basic skills that were below her abilities. When Hailey finished school, because of the nature of her program, she didn’t earn an actual high school diploma and was too far behind in core subjects to earn a GED.
“I didn’t deserve to be in programs like that,” Hailey pointed out. “Those teachers treated all the students with disabilities the same. They don’t understand what you really need or what level of a disability you have. Teachers need to understand the individual student and what they’re going through in life.”
Hailey found that empathy at Learn4Life. In just 14 months, she caught up on credits and graduated.
“Our personalized, one-on-one approach helped her develop her strengths and gain confidence,” said Stuve. “Plus, her counselors and teachers helped Hailey with life skills like anger management, and coping skills that will help her transition into adulthood.”
In December of 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) law was enacted, granting access to children with special needs to free and quality public education. Stuve and her colleagues at Learn4Life believe that to accomplish that, no student should be educated in isolation.
“That’s important for everyone. Children without disabilities are deprived of opportunities to get to know students with disabilities, to view them as their peers and to learn to see beyond the disability.”