Collaboration: Ensuring that Special Education Students are Prepared to Graduate

In 2014, 26 seniors who’d received special education services graduated from YES Prep. This spring, that number will jump to 37— with 28 of those students graduating with a distinguished or recommended diploma. In order to serve YES Prep’s increasing number of students with disabilities and to ensure that ALL students are set up for success, YES Prep has increased the number of specialists— both on campuses and in the Home Office and has fostered collaboration between special education teachers, general education teachers, and other student support providers.

Jamie Kaelin, Director of Special Education, stated that the number of campus-based Learning Lab Specialists (LLS) is now almost 50, which means that there is one LLS to 13 students who receive services. The Home Office Special Education team, which supports the campuses, is comprised of 12 members, including diagnosticians, a licensed school psychologist, speech and language therapists, a transition specialist, and behavioral support specialists. “We’re building a continuum of services,” Kaelin said. “We’re able to meet the needs of a student with a mild disability all the way to those who had more significant disabilities.” The increased number of LLS’s has meant that each has more time to communicate with teachers, students, and parents. Marcela Rodriguez, the Learning Lab Lead at YES Prep West, said: “It allows me more time to attend ARDs (meetings that determine the special education supports and services for a student), coach teachers individually, and support my team.” Rodriguez and her team are also able to “push-in” to classes, meaning they work in the general education classrooms to support their students and model for teachers how to provide accommodations.

Alicia Riddle, the Learning Lab Manager at YES Prep North Forest, also spoke about the increased collaboration between special education teachers and general education teachers. She pointed to Content Days as a source for that collaboration. Content Days provide a chance for Learning Lab Specialists from across the campuses to unite and ask “What can we do to help teachers? What can we do to help kids?” She added, “That collaboration is a big selling point at YES. The SpEd team is not just some self-contained resource room. We’re in a school community.”

The collaboration has also helped the students who receive services to graduate. Kaelin’s team has developed relationships with Student Support Counselors, Content Directors, Reading and Math Interventionists, and the College Initiatives team. “With significant disabilities and skill gaps,” Kaelin said, “we want to strike a balance between giving students access to general education content and giving them access to services.” The Special Education team has initiated some community-based instruction and vocational instruction. “We’ve set up partnerships with the YMCA,” she said. “We have a student that works in the day care and another that works with sports equipment.” For the two seniors receiving special education services at West, Rodriguez has worked with the students’ Senior Seminar teacher and the Director of College Initiatives. “We’re working on the process of applying to college and figuring out what colleges will best provide accommodations for these students,” she said.

Another key component of ensuring that ALL students graduate is preparing kids for self-advocacy. Kaelin reported that an advisor from Texas Tech called to commend her on a YES alumnus: “He said [the YES alumnus] was one of the best prepared students with autism he’d seen.” Rodriguez also noted that West’s two seniors that receive special education services, who she’s known since 6th grade, have grown in this area. They’re “able to advocate for themselves. To ask for help when they need it. They’re now comfortable saying, ‘I have a learning disability and I need support.'”

Hilda Centeno looks forward to her son, a 10th grader at YES Prep Gulfton, graduating from high school and heading off to college. “Ms. Stephanie Davidson and Ms. Kaelin have worked with [my son] since the first day he attended YES Prep,” she said. “Ms. Davidson is always there when we have concerns and she immediately takes care of it…The special education program at YES makes a big difference in the lives of the students and their families.”

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