Special-education program grows, gives parents a Catholic school option
WILMINGTON — The last sentence of the mission statement for St. Anthony of Padua School says it is “committed to providing a Catholic education to those who desire it.” An initiative that started last year has allowed St. Anthony’s to welcome another group of students.
The school in Wilmington’s Little Italy hired a full-time special-education teacher last year, fulfilling one of the hopes of principal Judy White.
“It had been a wish for a long time. I’ve always wanted to have an inclusive school where we could take everyone,” she said.
Support from the parish enabled the school to hire a special-ed teacher. White said the program does not consist solely of making accommodations, such as extending test times or placing students in the front of a classroom. St. Anthony’s is modifying the curriculum for those children with 504 plans or individualized education (IEP) plans.
For example, if a class is working on an assignment in a textbook or on a tablet, the teacher could be working with a student or two on a completely interactive lesson.
“The special-ed teacher works with the homeroom teacher, sees what they are doing, and then sees that that curriculum is applicable to that child or if they think something else should be done,” White said.
White spent 11 years as a counselor at the school before becoming principal six years ago. Incorporating special education was on her wish list for years. St. Anthony’s, like several other schools, had a resource room, but that wasn’t cutting it for her.
“I didn’t want that anymore,” she said. “The goal really, for me, was inclusion, to push into the classroom. The difference with this program is our teacher goes into the classroom, and she’ll work with that child.”
Many of the younger students don’t even realize she’s a special-ed teacher, she added. They think she’s co-teaching with a few students.
School counselor Laura Angelo said the special-ed teacher can concentrate on the educational issues, while the counselor can focus more on behavioral concerns and the well-being of all students.
“My role is to do individual counseling, small groups and classroom guidance. I’m focused on the whole student body,” Angelo said.
Initiative in second year
A special-ed teacher started last year and was quite busy. She was seeing children with every kind of diagnosis. This year, that teacher will work with students who have 504 plans or IEPs, while the counselor and teachers will take on some duties.
White said the school didn’t do much advertising of the program last year while they got things off the ground and made modifications. Word got out, however, and referrals started coming in from other diocesan schools. It is a way to keep families in Catholic education that otherwise would have to turn elsewhere.
“We don’t want anyone to leave our diocese solely because we are not able to modify our curriculum,” White said.
St. Anthony’s had a few new enrollments over the summer because of its special-ed program. The children in the program seem to be in the younger grades, White said.
The school has worked with the Red Clay Consolidated School District in the past for assistance with special-education students, and that will continue, the principal said. But instead of having to transfer students into the public schools, St. Anthony’s can meet their needs in all but a few cases.