Sailing to Special Ed
Teachers who work in Special Ed are in a class by themselves.
Thelma Ivie of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, has been at it 20 years, most recently across the border in a Kansas school district. We talked about her work while sailing near Williamsburg. A chronic problem I’ve heard over the years isn’t about the students, but the parents. Many tend to be in denial, angry, apathetic, and looking to the school to “fix the problem.”
“The parents of only two of my 20 students participate in the program,” she said while sailing with her husband Ernie and their friend Mike Bartosh. When the parents don’t show up for updates and counseling, Thelma goes to their home.
“I have to anyway because I have to get them to sign the IEP” or individual education plan. “Some of them sign it and say nothing. They just want us to babysit their kids. Kansas will keep special ed child in high school until he turns 21. That’s a form of babysitting. Oklahoma just passed a law that requires them to get out in the world once they’ve turned 18 and finished the curriculum.”
That requires employment. “We work hard to place them in jobs in the community. We’re very proud of implementing our Job Olympics in which all kinds of employers came in for a job fair. We place them in Pizza Hut, nursing homes, convenience stores and other places where they gain customer skills.”
But do the students succeed? “Right here on this boat, Dave is a success,” she said, nodding to Dave Bartosh who’s accompanying them on vacation.
“I was told I’d never get my GED, but I did,” he said proudly. I went to a special school and later to a group home to learn how to live on my own. I took karate for a long time and got my black belt.”
Later that day I took the Lanasa family of suburban St. Louis for a cruise. Eventually her mom Lisa suggested their daughter Abby tell about her work. She teaches severely handicapped children.
“I have seven children, all of them boys, and four in wheelchair. Their disabilities include Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and Leubodystropy. If Muscular Distrophy attacks the muscles, Leubodystropy attacks the nerves.”
Does she see any progress in their development? “One of my students actually raised his hand to ask a question. That was a first. Another boy finally sat still for five minutes. That was progress.”
The students cannot be mainstreamed, but they spend 45 minutes a day in a regular classroom. No bullies here. “They are treated like rock stars.”
Lisa piped up, “Abby started the program at her school because they didn’t have it. She won Teacher of the Year last year.”