Anne Arundel County's school board is scheduled to get an update today on the success of the 2-year-old Neighborhood Schools Project, which is aimed at enabling students with special needs to spend time in the schools closest to their homes.
"What we're trying to do is get rid of all the labels and talk about youngsters attending neighborhood schools," said Irene Paonessa, director of special education for the county.
The project began at Magothy Middle School and has spread to two other schools on the Broadneck Peninsula.
When parents of other children in special education programs learned of the project, they, too wanted their children to attend neighborhood schools instead of separate schools for students with multiple handicaps, Ms. Paonessa said.
The result was the creation of a separate outreach program, now in effect at 35 to 40 schools around the county, in which special education students share art, music and physical education classes with other students, attending special classes the rest of the day within the same school.
Special education students in the neighborhood schools project share all classes. The subject matter is simply adapted to their needs.
"This allows them to participate in school activities with nondisabled students," Ms. Paonessa said. "Classmates can develop a better sense of responsibility, and it helps them face what will happen in adult life. Social activities, malls and businesses are not in self-contained separate settings. We can teach in a more natural environment."
The program also is designed to prevent special needs children from feeling isolated and give them a chance to make friends, she said.
With practice, teachers at Magothy Middle and other schools have been able to adapt their teaching plans to the needs of special students, said Lois Cheplowitz, a "neighborhood schools" teacher.
There are 15 students in the program at Magothy Middle who came from special centers, outreach programs and the neighborhood, she said.
There are also students in a neighborhood schools program at Severn River Junior High and Broadneck Senior High. Class sizes vary.
"We still have our special centers, but this is the school these kids would go to if they had no disabilities," Ms. Cheplowitz said. "This gives parents and students options and choices. It also depends how much we think the child will get out of the program."
Students' progress is measured based on their abilities.
"We don't measure their progress against the rest of the sixth grade," Ms. Cheplowitz said.
The school board meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. at board headquarters on Riva Road in Annapolis.