Teachers, Administrators Pushing to Create Therapeutic Classrooms (MA)
May 28, 2010
The classroom has only a few pictures, so as not to over-stimulate the children. The chairs have rounded legs, so that nobody’s shoelace gets caught. Any mishap, even one as minor as that, can cause a severe emotional outburst and disrupt the school day.
These are just two features of Central Elementary School’s therapeutic classroom, a space designed specifically for children who have difficulty regulating their emotions.
The classroom is among a handful of its kind in the area. Teachers and administrators continue to push for them because they allow students with emotional difficulties to attend classes in their hometowns, rather than being shuttled off – at significant taxpayer expense – to faraway schools that are better-equipped to serve their needs.
“It’s just so much better for everybody if these students can stay in the building,” said Nancy Miller, East Bridgewater’s director of special education.
She opted last year to create Central School’s classroom, which has one teacher, one teaching aide and three students. Paying to send those children to other schools would have come at a high price – up to $70,000 apiece for tuition and transportation.
“We needed money to pay their tuition or we needed money to pay for a teacher. It’s substantially less to hire a teacher,” Miller said.
In Easton, Moreau Hall Elementary School has a new classroom designed for children with autism. The classroom has one teacher, two teaching assistants and five students.
Those children began the year with little grasp of reading and writing, Principal Bob Smith said. They’re now learning letter sounds and words at their own pace.
“To see the progress of these students, who really came to us as nonverbal students, interact in their own small way is really one of my greatest joys,” Smith said.
Smith said having the classroom in his school also means children do not spend part of their day traveling the 20 to 50 miles each way to the nearest classroom that could provide for their needs.
“The parents are just so happy to have their children down the street,” Smith said. “The community knows them and they know the community.”
If Easton schools were to send its 22 special needs students out of district, it could cost the town approximately $900,000 to educate them, according to Director of Special Education Beverly Conte.
Conte said costs are increasing for out-of-district placements while state reimbursement rates are decreasing, down last year to 42 percent from an initial 75 percent.
“That’s why we keep trying to build in-house programs,” Conte said. “They keep the children local.”
Two classrooms in Middleboro were created this year to a ccommodate 10 children with autism. One room serves students in prekindergarten and kindergarten, the other grades 1 through 4. Between the two classrooms there are two teachers and nine aides.
Melissa Deutschmann, Middleboro director of special education, said the district created the classrooms more from a philosophical standpoint rather than a financial one. Sending students out-of-district, she said, forces local schools to relinquish control over how the children are taught.
“Middleboro is the kind of community where a lot of families are born and raised here,” Deutschmann said. “It’s a very integrated community. I like to be able to say kids can remain connected to that.”
Students typically benefit from working alongside their special needs peers as well, Deutschmann said.
“I think they can learn a lot about life working next to a student with a disability,” Deutschmann said. “Everybody has something worth sharing.”
Special education budgets, especially in the current climate of budget cuts and layoffs, are constantly under public scrutiny. Miller, East Bridgewater’s director of special education, said it all comes down to this: All children are supposed to receive the same education.
“The word ‘same’ doesn’t get applied to the money, it gets applied to the education,” Miller said. “Sameness means we have to do whatever we can to make sure they have the same education.”