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Hand-tailored education for students who need it most

CASTLE ROCK – While the needs of most students can be met within a typical classroom environment through universal or targeted programming—a small group of students require an even more intensive level of support. The Douglas County School District (DCSD) works to personalize learning for each and every child, including those that need the highest levels of support.

“Every student’s journey is a little different. Our teams really work to tailor programming to meet their needs, explained DCSD Special Education Director Nancy Ingalls. “We work to do everything we can to meet even the most unique or intensive needs.”

Types of Intensive Intervention
In most cases intensive interventions and support are provided through DCSD’s center-based programs, many of which are located within neighborhood schools in Douglas County.

“Center-based programs have classroom space allocated within a school, so that these students have a home base,” Ingalls explained. “They are designed to provide specialized instruction and the highest level of support only for those students who need it and only when they need it.”

As mentioned in the article One size fits all? Not in Douglas County, utilizing the Multi-Level System of Supports model, DCSD’s goal is to meet students where they are, by providing customized targeted or intensive programming to meet their needs.

Intensive programming is focused on specific areas of support, helping a diverse array of students—from students who are highly gifted to students who are significantly impacted because of their disability.

“Students in SSN (significant support needs) programs, for instance, have some level of cognitive impairment or have significant impairment in their adaptive functioning,” Ingalls explained. Many of these students do not have the skills to master grade level curriculum so their academic focus is related to life skills or functional academics; they are working toward the State’s Extended Evidence Outcomes in their core content areas.

In each case, it is a team of experts that refer students for intensive programming, after the student has not made progress with targeted interventions

“Over time as the team sees that the student is not making progress they might change or increase interventions and support until they have exhausted all of the possibilities available within a school,” Ingalls said. “If the student is still not making progress, the IEP team will consider a more intensive level of support.”

Below is a listing of the intensive programming offered by DCSD:

Significant Support Needs (SSN) Program
This program is designed for students K-12th grades that experience cognitive impairment and may have one or more additional disabilities in language, motor, or other areas of development.  Academic and living skills instruction are modified to meet student needs.  SSN programs are available in various neighborhood schools throughout the district. Follow this link for questions about elementary SSN programs that are at capacity and placement.

Serious Emotional Disability (SED) Program
This program is for students in Elementary and Middle School who have significant emotional disorders that interfere with the student’s ability to benefit from existing school programs. The program focuses on appropriate social-emotional behaviors as well as academic instruction. Students return to their home schools as soon as they develop appropriate behavioral control.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program (DHH) 
This program is designed to meet the diverse needs of students with hearing loss in Pre-K through High School.  The DHH program services students throughout Douglas County and represents a variety of communication modes, degrees of hearing loss, programming needs and service delivery options.

Plum Creek Academy
Plum Creek Academy offers special education programming and services for DCSD middle and high school students whose emotional and/or dual diagnoses deny them access or progress in their neighborhood school. 

K-8 Special Education Opportunity  (Proposed)
The Douglas County School District has proposed creating a new special education program that will serve those Douglas County students that have most significant emotional and behavioral needs. 

Discovery Program
The Discovery Program is a self-contained center based magnet program for highly gifted learners located regionally at four elementary school sites in Douglas County. The program is intended for those students who require intensity of instruction and acceleration beyond what can reasonably be expected from the regular school program.

Out-of-District Programs
In rare cases, even these options are not enough. When that happens a student may be referred to an out-of-District facility school.

Currently there are nearly 30 DCSD students sent to out-of-District options. This amounts to roughly $1.5 million annually in tuition costs. Additionally, the transportation costs are extremely expensive, because none of the out-of-District facilities are located in Douglas County. The students must be bussed to Denver, Northwest Littleton and beyond.

Finally, these students do not have access to Douglas County’s high-quality curriculum, so these options are always a last resort.

“We are always obligated to do everything we can in our own district first. The cost of these programs and transporting the students is very expensive, because all of them are outside of Douglas County,” Ingalls explained. “We want to keep kids in our own community.”

Still Connected
While intensive interventions are offered outside of the general education environment, it is important to note that students in these programs are still encouraged to engage in typical school activities, depending on their individual learning and social needs.

“They do still have opportunities for exposure to general education to varying degrees. They are not isolated in a center-based classroom all day long,” Ingalls said. 

In fact, often students from these center-based programs participate in general education classes, lunch, recess and other school activities, again depending on their unique needs.

This is even possible at the educational facilities, like Plum Creek Academy, where students are not on a typical school campus.

“We provide transportation, so when students are ready they can ‘dip their toes’ into going back to the large school, while still spending part of their day at Plum Creek. This allows them to gradually transition back to the general education environment over time.”

February 1, 2016 | By rmbarber | Category: Gifted Education, Department of Personalized Learning, Special Education

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