Plymouth-Canton program expands special-ed mainstreaming

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“I love it. It’s my favorite class,” said Elizabeth Guglielmi, a senior who is planning to study special education in college.

Topics of conversation

Benages pushed the small tables in her classroom kitchen together for an HSE foods class on a recent afternoon.

“Sitting like this is more like a regular table,” she told students as they settled in for class. The purpose, she said, was to foster conversation around the tables as students enjoyed muffins they had baked earlier in the week.

“What sort of things can you talk about and ask people?” Benages said.

There was no shortage of topics. In small groups, the students talked about movies, hanging out with friends, favorite foods, favorite (and least favorite) classes and more.

Blake Bockmann said mathematics is his favorite class.

“I like like the money,” he said, explaining that the class uses discussions about money to teach math.

“I hate math,” Hannah Mitchell said. Her favorite class, she had said earlier, is the HSE class.

Blake thought for a moment when asked his favorite movie, then settled on Men in Black. Across the table, Catherine Thornburg said she liked to watch anything with Reba McEntire.

At a nearby table, sports, birthdays and visits to Cedar Point were among the topics.

“I go out to dinner,” Josh Patrick said when asked how he celebrates his birthday. Red Robin is where he likes to go, he said: “They sing for me.”

In the same group, Julia Maiorana offered that soccer is her favorite sport – she plays at home – and pizza her favorite food. “I make it at my house,” she said.

One girl became agitated early in the class, pointing to a visual scale to show the intensity of her feelings as an aide tried to calm her. Benages said she was probably reacting to the change in routine – having the tables pushed together for conversation. The girl was led into the hallway for a time, but by the end of the period was calm and participating.

Real-world experience

Senior Nichole Masserant, working with Josh on this day, said she planned to study physical therapy at Oakland University and that HSE is introducing her to people with conditions she might see in that profession. Each general-education HSE student works with five different special-education students over the course of a semester.

It can be challenging, Nichole said, recalling a student with whom she had difficulty communicating: “I realized how to communicate with him as time went on.”

Natalie Koivula, who was paired with Julia, said she likes interacting with the special-education students and noted they recognize they’re building skills, like cooking, that they’ll need for greater independence.

“Sometimes they need a little guidance,” Natalie said. “But they can pretty much do it on their own.”

The P-CEP HSE program began about eight years ago with the foods class and was recently expanded to include art, which is co-taught by art teacher Craig Linderman and special-education teacher Lauren Delapaz. In art, students have painted, built a working guitar, done spin art and kept sketchbooks, Delapaz said.

Delapaz, in her first year of teaching in the program, noted that whatever their situations, the students are students first, not labels.

“They’re students before their disability,” she said.

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