Claudia Kieselhorst was trying to explain government and taxes to a bunch of squirming Pasadena Elementary School third-graders intent onsharpening pencils, getting drinks, climbing on a counter and bouncing chairs.
"And who do you think pays me?" she asked over the commotion.
"The government," shouted Jason LaPlanche, one of 11 special-education students Pasadena teachers are trying to ease out of their insulated classrooms into regular classrooms.
"Right," Kieselhorst cheered. Jason scribbled a note to himself.
The Pasadena program is an effort to comply with federal law that requires that children be taught "in the least-restrictive environment possible," explained Principal Rocco Ferretti.
"Years ago, the most needy children stayed inspecial-education rooms, or even went to different schools," he said. "But now, we're trying to get more learning-disabled youngsters into regular classrooms."
Jason and his classmates, drawn from Pasadena Elementary and four nearby schools, suffer from a variety of learning disabilities that include physical handicaps and mild retardation, said Donna Resnick, their teacher.
She teaches according to their needs, rather than their disabilities, she said.
For the most part, that means providing a highly structured environment where there is a place for everything and everything is returned to its place before students move on to another activity.
It means using blocks and beans to teach counting skills and sign language to reinforce verbal commands.
"I try to develop listening skills, the kinds of skills for gathering information," Resnick said. "I use gimmicky things, some memory devices as simple as tying a string around your finger. Wetry to develop the thinking skills to use in the regular classroom."
All of that also means a lot of praise and positive reinforcement.
"Oh, my gosh, Row 1, that's so nice the way you are ready," Resnick exclaimed at one point Wednesday afternoon. She exchanged high-fives with Jarrett Cone when he answered correctly and praised Derek Kowalewski for "sitting so quietly."
"Stephanie, you're really tunedin, too," she added. "Gosh, Candice, you are being so patient."
The effort also calls for parents getting involved, Ferretti said.
"Just as the children need to learn techniques to deal with a regularclassroom, parents need techniques to deal with children with handicaps," he said. "They get frustrated when somebody can't remember 20 spelling words in a night. But these children can only learn maybe five words a night."
Teachers encourage parents to volunteer at the school and to ask questions, said Sandy Mach, whose 9-year-old daughter, Rebekah, is in the class. "If you have problems, they're always there," she added. "They give you a lot of hints on how to correct behaviors and how to be consistent with what's going on at school."
Students spend a large part of their day with Resnick, who provides thestructure.
"I am their only teacher," she said. "They only have to learn my rules, my strategy."
For a half-hour or so, teaching aide Virginia Stephan takes small groups to classes in science and social studies, where she helps them take notes and stay focused.
Fourstudents in the back of the crowded classroom, where Kieselhorst is teaching third-graders, and huddle around Stephan. She coaxes them topay attention to the lesson on state government structure and helps them copy a drawing on the board.
Later, they tell what they learned.
"We learned about Maryland and about the U.S. and how it worksand the judge," Derek volunteered.
"You have to vote for the government and give the government taxes and stuff," added Jason. "And that's for food for people and to help poor people."
And what do they think of being tossed into that classroom with all that confusion?
"Cool," said Jason.
"Awesome," added Derek
"I'd like to do it all the time," concluded Vincent Boggus.