SSD makes difference in students lives

Len Daiber, SSD teacher, prepares for his Learning Strategies class and checks attendance. (Photo by Cristina Vasquez-Muniz)
Len Daiber, SSD teacher, prepares for his Learning Strategies class and checks attendance.
(Photo by Cristina Vasquez-Muniz)

Addie Conway

Learning to read, understanding math formulas and knowing social cues are actions most students take for granted. Other students struggle and look to the Special School District for help.

“We diagnose students with disabilities and provide the support that they need to succeed in the least restrictive environment at Webster Groves High School,”

said Joyce Doyle, SSD coordinator.
“At the high school level, we are providing a support system, task focus, social, academic and emotional support, as well helping to support general education in having the accommodations and modifications in place,” Doyle said.

Common disabilities include dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), dyscalculia (struggling with math) and dysgraphia (struggling with writing).

“I have ADHD and language impairment,” said an anonymous senior who’s a part of SSD. “Having a language impairment means that I struggle with comprehen

ding things, and I have troubles with reading. I was put into an IEP [Individual Education Plan] in the first grade, and it basically states your learning requirements, like if you need a test read to you, a different testing room or more time.”

An IEP is a legal document which tells the student’s learning disabilities and includes accommodations or modifications he or she will need a in a classroom setting. The IEP is perused by teachers, counselors, administrators, parents and students themselves. This “team” is held accountable for carrying it out and creates student goals to ensure that he or she’ll be college or career ready upon graduation.

“My teachers don’t do my homework,” said the senior. “They help me break it down or help me edit my papers. In Learning Strategies, we develop our learning goals, discuss articles and interest planning. I feel more comfortable to go there and ask for help.”

“We’re trying to level the playing field for students with disabilities,” said Doyle. “We’re not trying to help them cheat.”

“I communicate with SSD staff or the area coordinator,” said John Thomas, SSD liaison. “I try to make sure that every kid at Webster has a typical experience, and I make sure their IEP is implemented exactly as how it should be.”

“Of course, when it comes to learning, it’s not black and white,” said Doyle. “The teachers at the high school do a great job of deciding how an IEP should look in each classroom to support each individual.”

If parents or teachers feel a student may have an undiagnosed learning disability, they take their concerns to the guidance department. A meeting with the student, teachers, parents and counselor will ensue with data from current teachers to see if full-blown diagnostic testing should be done by SSD or school psychologist. Dependent upon the diagnostic testing, a student’s eligibility for an IEP is determined according to federal and state guidelines.

“[The math department] is legally obligated to follow the accommodations stated in an IEP,” said Suzanne Fillion, math department chairperson. “Most commonly, those accommodations are extended time or preferential seating. We offer a variety of teaching methods to meet different needs in the classroom like group work for those who want to express themselves or sit down work for those who feel they can concentrate better on their own.”

For juniors and seniors, making the transition from a high school learning environment to a college environment can be difficult.
“At different colleges, there are different levels,” said Marsha Dempsey, 2013 and 2015 college and career counselor. “There could be a testing center, recommendations for tutors, or it could be extensive, with a dedicated office to help students through school, to organize their time, help them write their resume or select teachers.”

“I feel like I have someone here, but I won’t in college, except for tutors,” said the senior. “I’ve been so dependant for four years, and I’m  [considering] going to Meramac for a transisition from the support system I recieved at Webster, to a support system I would recieve at the college level or in the real world.”

“In college there is support for everyone,” contined Dempsey, “but you have to find it on your own.”

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