Charter Pulse

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COLORADO: New charter school focuses on special needs students

special academic needsDENVER – Christine Ferris has come to Colorado from California with one mission in mind. She wants to create something special for special needs students in Denver.

“If kids feel safe, if kids feel like they’re cared about then they’re able to do their best academically,” Ferris said.

She will serve as the principal of the REACH Charter School which will open in the fall of 2015 within Denver Public Schools. Standing for Reimagining Excellence for All in a Community with Heart, REACH will be provide fully inclusive classrooms for all students no matter their special needs, no matter how severe the disability.

“Anybody can come to this whose interested no matter what is going on with their child,” Ferris said. “We will figure out a way to make it work for them.”

This is a dream project for the Sewall Child Development Center, which has created a learning environment to mix typically developing children with special needs students for the last 70 years. Sewall’s program serves kids through kindergarten. The REACH Charter School will eventually have preschool through 5th grade classrooms impacting more than 300 students.

“There is very little full inclusion in charter schools, yes, for a variety of reasons,” Heidi Heissenbuttal, Sewall Child Development Center CEO, said. “At REACH, we’re going to push in supports which means we’re going to take the supports that children need to learn and grow effectively and push them into the classrooms.”

Heissenbuttal says special education teachers, occupational physical therapists, speech therapists will work with classroom teachers in a team approach.

“It’s the key that each child’s individual abilities will be addressed and it will be done collaboratively,” Heissenbuttal said. “Teachers will have the support that often they don’t have access to those resources.”

Ferris and Heissenbuttal know that the added resources can raise expenses in the classroom. But, Sewall has a time-tested fundraising program that the they feel can support the needs of the new school.

But, the school will not be all for special needs students.

“I think it’s going to be an exceptional school for gifted kids,” Ferris said.

She believes their commitment to individualizing education for all students will be effective for anybody including English language learners. Ferris says the ideal mix of students will be 30 percent special needs to 70 percent traditional students.

“It’s actually double the percentage of typical district schools, too,” Ferris said. “They’re really around 12 percent often, 14 percent.”

The new charter school and Sewall Child Development Center will take over the current campus of the Denver Waldorf School near 9th Avenue and Fillmore Street. The Denver Waldorf School is moving to a new location. The enrollment process for REACH will begin in January 2015. It is a tuition-free charter school.

The hope is to create something unique in Colorado, Ferris says, while redefining the meaning of inclusion.

“We want it to be a place where other teachers and other schools could come and see and get great ideas,” Ferris said. “So that we would start seeing more inclusion practices all around Denver instead of just at our particular school.”

Source: 9 News – by Nelson Garcia

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This entry was posted on June 20, 2014 by in Charter Schools, Colorado, States.

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