Learning disabilities programs at OHS

Abigail Ely, Staff Reporter

Okemos High School has a wide variety of programs and classes that help people with varying disabilities. These classes include AP classes and general education class courses that most of our students take and graduate with and basic classrooms and gen-ed classes that allow for an equal opportunity for learning.
OHS has three basic classrooms. The Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) classroom is specifically for students with severe autism, and two other basic classrooms have students with different cognitive impairments, autism and other disabilities.
“Our program in it of itself is an accommodation because we have a specialized curriculum, so we’re not doing the same curriculum the rest of the school is doing when it comes to math, science and language arts. We provide different learning tools like different monitors and different handheld stuff that the students might need to access their curriculum,” Jessica Phillips (Basic classroom) said.
The curriculum the students are on is even more unique in the fact that it can be tailored to the individual student that is in the program. All the basic classroom programs are also self contained, which means they are not on a track to get their diplomas. Instead the students work on functional base academics, such as being able to follow a checklist, budgeting and counting money.
“I think the greatest resource that we have is that we are not absolutely bound to a set curriculum. Everybody in this program has an individual educational program with individual goals, and then we create activities and work that goes along with that,” Keith Miller (Resource) said.
The students also get additional help through the paraprofessionals that comes in to help with the students along with Links, who are students who spend a class working with the students in these basic classrooms. With these extra sets of hands, the program and curriculum can be much more diverse and allow for more tailored education.
Accommodations for the students go beyond the walls of the school. The program provides an option that allows some of the students to learn at different job sites. These job sites range from simple custodial work at Delta Dental and cleaning up the weight room at Court One to the more advanced work such as working food prep at Buddies or working with teachers to play games and work with the little kids in pre-primary imparied (PIP). Once they’ve worked at these job sites for a while and are seen to be taking to it well, they can go to a job site in Peckham. Peckham has many jobs at various levels of difficulty, spanning from working in the kitchen to working on fabric repairs for Patagonia clothing items.
“For any field trip we have to go to in a community. [Heather Pricco, special-ed director,] is very willing to let us try new things. In the morning we have para-pros, who are our job coaches and we go to four different job sites so they can get vocational training there. Community mental health helps us out with things and so we have a tremendous amount of help from outside this classroom that helps us try and meet the needs of these guys,” Miller said.
Miller believes these job sites are a really great resource in the program and help the students to learn real life skills that’ll help them once they turn 26 and are no longer able to be in the program.
When asked about what should be highlighted about the program, Miller described how he was extremely happy to see that the kids in the basic classrooms are more visible to the general education students as he talked about his experience from when he first started to teach at Okemos. He explained that when he started working here 20 years ago the kids in the basic classrooms felt very isolated from the general education kids and set away in a separate part of the school. Nowadays these students frequently can be seen with gen-ed students, through Links and being in classes like lifeguarding and choir.
Having these programs has allowed OHS to widen its accommodations and give more help to some specific needs of students.There will always be things that can be improved that will help allow the kids in this program to have a more practical education.
“I would like to see more elective courses offered so that our kids could get out with their general education peers. We’re so academically driven at Okemos that we kind of lose out on some of the elective courses,” Miller said.
This program is continuously changing and growing as more is researched about how to best help the students in the program. While it might not be perfect, the work being done in these classrooms help teach these students practical life skills they’ll need for the rest of their life.