Special Education reviews programs

Published 10:36 am Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Special Education Advisory Committee for Southampton County Public Schools reviewed the division’s special education plan during its third meeting of the 2016-2017 school year, held on Tuesday morning at Riverdale Elementary School. Members were also briefed on the state of two special education programs in which the division participates: the Fresh Start Center and Graz’n Acres Therapeutic Riding.

The committee is composed of parents, special education teachers and other special education-related personnel in Southampton County, and is tasked with advising the Southampton County School Board of any unmet needs in the division’s education of disabled and special-needs children.

Norma Jones, a special education specialist with the division’s central office, presented the special education plan, filling in for Dr. Tonia Taylor, the division’s director of Special Education. According to Jones, the purpose of the plan is to establish the division’s eligibility to receive funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. For the current fiscal year, the division had budgeted approximately $4.7 million for its special education programs.

Kisha Watford, the Fresh Start Center’s program manager, presented on the two special education programs the center offers: academic and alternative education.

The academic program includes year-long classes in English, math and social studies, intended primarily for eighth grade students who, for reasons of failing grades, poor attendance or discipline issues, have been deemed not ready for a high school setting. According to Watford, the academic program uses small group and individualized instruction, coupled with counseling services provided through Southampton High School, career exploration and field trips to local colleges. She added that students enrolled at the center are still able to participate in sports at Southampton High School.

For the first semester this school year, the center offered foundations of English, English 9, foundations of algebra, math 9, history, economics, personal finance, health and physical education, ecology and enrichment writing as its academic program courses.

One parent asked why there was a lack of science courses for rising and current 9th graders, to which she replied that the center’s science classes for 9th graders were a “work in progress” but were available to 10th, 11th and 12th graders enrolled in the center’s alternative education program. The alternative education program, Watford said, is intended for students in 6th through 12th grade who have been suspended or expelled from division schools.

Cyndi Raiford, the director and lead instructor at Graz’n Acres Therapeutic Riding Center, presented an overview of the center’s programs for students with physical and/or intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorders. According to Raiford, the center opened in 1999 with one horse that she owned and two students. By 2016, the center was hosting approximately 65 students per week, and had 10 horses and about 50 volunteers.

“Therapeutic riding, contrary to what most people might think, is not to teach students to ride,” she said. “We’re going to work on the muscle strength; we’re going to work on speech; we’re going to work on self esteem and confidence. It’s not a pony ride. They’re working hard and we’re partnering with the horse and environment to affect this change.

“There’s nothing better than to have an eight or nine-year-old who finally wants to ride a bike because they can now get on that bicycle.”

Raiford added that the center also offers an at-risk program in partnership with the Fresh Start Center, as well as a driving program, where students who for medical or behavioral reasons should not ride, can learn to drive a horse-drawn carriage.

“There’s no better equalizer than a thousand-pound horse for students with attitude,” she said.

Graz’n Acres is located off of Ivor Road in Sedley. This is a nonprofit organization, and a majority of its budget, according to Raiford, goes to providing care for their horses.

The final meeting of the special education advisory committee for the school year will be Tuesday, April 25, at 11 a.m., held in Capron Elementary School.