Editor’s note: The following is the final installment of a two-part series on the special education services offered at Whitko High School.
PIERCETON — Developing students into contributing community members is one of the many goals for Whitko Community School Corporation. However, when those students are faced with certain challenges that threaten their education, that goal can appear to be impossible to reach.
Donna Lehman, director of Special Services for WCSC, works with a group of teachers and administrators to remove those obstacles.
Students taking part in Special Services programs are faced with disabilities, medical concerns that may limit their learning and some are struggling with English as a fluent language.
Other students are dealing with poverty while some learn at a faster pace than their peers.
“The teachers want to see the students succeed. There are a lot of success stories. Each student receives the best possible chance for an education,” Lehman said. “We have such a tremendous amount of support from Steve Clason and Tom McFarland.”
Lehman was referring to Superintendent Clason and Business Manager McFarland.
As budgets continue to tighten for schools across Indiana, smaller districts such as WCSC can feel a greater pinch.
“There are so many calculations the state has that doesn’t really factor the difference in a small district,” Lehman said. “When cuts are made, Special Services is sometimes an easy target. However, Steve and Tom have worked so hard to ensure I have the resources I need to do what I need to do.”
Less money may be a black mark against a smaller school district, but some of the benefits continue to drive students through the doors at WCSC.
“We have such a personal relationship with our students,” said Lehman.
“We can work closely with parents and get to know their students. This allows us the chance to really customize a lesson plan that enhances their learning experience.”
Partnering with parents is a key component to identifying students with special needs.
“Because we have smaller schools, teachers can take notice in a child that may not be advancing like the rest of the class,” said Lehman.
“That is a trigger for us to see if maybe there are other tools we can use to help this student along.”
One of the unique opportunities afford WCSC is Community Based Instruction.
This is offered to special education students and taps into community resources to build skills to achieve individual student goals.
CBI includes swimming, bowling and horseback riding trips. Students also venture out into the community for shopping and social activities.
“These are not just fun field trips, but a chance to work on real-life skills,” said Lehman. “We want students to feel accepted in every day situations and this gives them that chance. It also is a good time for them to learn other lessons outside the classroom.”
Lehman said more students are finding a place within Special Services and that has put a strain on the budget for unique programs such as CBI.
“If we just had a couple of sponsors that would be willing to underwrite an outing or help pay for transportation,” Lehman said. “If a couple of businesses would offer to sponsor some of what we are doing, that would be great.”
Having the community’s involvement is an important factor for Lehman. It is her goal to have each student connect with their peer group and in the future within the community.
“I hope that when these students are adults, they will be able to be out and about in our town and other students who graduated with them will be able to say ‘hi’ and give them a high five or a hug,” said Lehman.