By Katina Caraganis
SHIRLEY — The regionalization of Ayer and Shirley may not be official until July 2011, but the Shirley Middle School is taking steps to implement various support systems in the classrooms to make every student feel comfortable and get the academic help they need.
This includes a new transition classroom to meet the needs of students with emotional issues and for those who may need extra academic support, according to Teri Babetski, director of student services and early childhood and grants coordinator for the Shirley School District.
Babetski said only students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) are eligible to use the room and must undergo testing before being assigned to that classroom.
“It would state on the IEP what types of supports and accommodations the child requires to be successful,” explained Babetski. “It would say they need this type of support, or that type of support, depending on the type of setting we would be putting them in.”
Babetski said the classroom, which looks like any normal classroom, has one teacher and two teaching assistants.
Students initially are assigned to general education classrooms and may be identified through a team meeting process that they need extra help in a particular subject, like math or language arts, explained Babetski.
The students receive more one-on-one attention in the classroom, according to Babetski.
“The team meets and if there is a concern, some evaluation testing is done, and the child’s parents are involved in the process,” she said. “We determine if they are eligible to receive the additional support, and then the team must determine their area of need.”
Babetski said the classroom is only for students who have an IEP and have been identified as needing some type of support.
“Parents would talk with the principal then call or write a letter to the Special Education Department and say they have some concerns,” Babetski said. “It’s not always teachers bringing it up.”
The middle school in Ayer had a similar program before the two schools joined forces this academic year, Babetski noted.
“Prior classrooms (in Shirley) had some additional supports with special case teachers on staff who had behavioral training so we were able to keep supporting kids in inclusion. We didn’t have the need,” she said.
There are currently seven kids in the classroom, all from Ayer, said Babetski.
“There were no Shirley children that qualified, but that may change,” Babetski said. “They (Ayer) already had the program established in middle school.”
While this exact model has not been implemented at the high-school level, Babetski said they do have similar supports in place.
According to Courtney Muller, administrator of special education and pupil personnel for the Leominster School District, said there are similar resources available to students across the district.
“We have a variety of different supports in the school system, one always being in front of the general education teacher. We build the supports around the student in the most responsible way,” she said.
There are student-support centers in place where students can go to where trained staff members are on hand to deal with various issues that may come up, academically or emotionally.
“We’re pushing them towards as much inclusion as possible but responsible inclusion might look different for each student and it might mean spending a portion of their time in a smaller setting,” she said.
All students who access the student service center have been evaluated and are eligible for special education services, according to Muller.
Muller pointed out that all students are held to the same academic standards, but those standards may be accommodated in a different way.