Kennedy Krieger School chosen by federal officials for Blue Ribbon award Special education center is 1 of 2 in United States receiving coveted honor

June 04, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

The Kennedy Krieger School brings new meaning to special education.

The East Baltimore center succeeds with tough kids where other schools have failed or given up.

That's essentially what the U.S. Department of Education said when it chose Kennedy Krieger as one of only two special education schools in the country to receive the coveted Blue Ribbon School Award. Students and staff of Kennedy Krieger's Middle School will celebrate the award today with ceremonies at the Fairmont Avenue school.

Afterward, the blue-ribbon banner proclaiming "excellence in education" will fly from the school's flagpole.

Kennedy Krieger is among 266 secondary schools, five others in Maryland, that officially received the government honor at ceremonies in Washington last week. The schools are recognized for their challenging academic standards, safe environment, excellent teaching and student achievement.

'Really nice atmosphere'

"We are taking some of the most difficult kids, and we're able to create a really nice atmosphere for these kids to learn in," said Michael Bender, vice president of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, of which the school has been a part for more than 20 years.

By mingling educators and medical staff in a high-tech setting, Kennedy Krieger has created a "one-stop shopping approach for some kids who have some very complex problems," he said.

But the treatment is highly individualized. When Howard County parent Jackie Miller realized that her son, Steven, needed different services than the public school could provide, she visited several schools. "I went to Kennedy, and I was talking to the teachers and they knew my son" long before he arrived, she said.

"Steven's a high-functioning autistic person who has major problems with social situations," she said. "Kennedy has given him a lot of opportunities."

Next year, Steven will go back to public high school. "Kennedy was a very stabilizing experience," his mother said. "He has gotten the nurturing he really needed."

The school has elementary and middle grades, with about 155 students, ages 5 to 15. The students have one or more serious physical, emotional and behavioral difficulties, ranging from speech impediments to hyperactivity profound brain damage.

Seventy percent are from the city, referred by public schools unable to provide adequate services. The rest come from six counties around the state. Although not a public school, Kennedy Krieger is supported by city, county and state funds that would have been spent on the students in their local schools. Private donations and foundation grants provide the extras.

Computers are everywhere. The computer laboratory has touch-sensitive keyboards for physically disabled youngsters.

The middle school technical education room sports a huge Lego roller coaster and smaller models that tie in to computers.

In the gym, there's a rock-climbing wall to "teach risk-taking," said Bender.

The school is bright, and artwork is everywhere. Classes usually have eight to 12 students, , though the desk alignment varies.

In one, for instance, students sit in traditional rows of desks. At another, however, work areas are spread around the edge of the room, so each student can see others but is separated physically by partitions.

"They can't hit each other, or distract each other," Bender said. realistically. "Their goal is to get to the center of the room."

Variety of programs

Because the students have many different needs, the school has a variety of programs, but underlying all are comprehensive academic programs focusing on reading and language development, math and science, as in neighborhood schools. Hands-on activities, from crafts to military drills, are emphasized.

"The kids are really doing things," Bender said.

As the state moves to bring home youngsters placed in out-of-state residential centers for the disabled, Kennedy Krieger has added an "extended day" program for middle-school students with the most severe problems.

When the regular school day ends at 3 p.m., they get together in one wing for food and "constructive activities," said Bender.

Even at a per student cost of $68,000, Kennedy Krieger's extended-day program is $40,000 or $50,000 cheaper than residential centers, Bender said.

But the program runs 11 hours a day, 11 months a year, compared with round-the-clock coverage at residential schools.

Kennedy Krieger has 28 after-school students.

"And we're finding some very bright youngsters," he said as he pTC looked around a woodworking shop of busy young men. "Not long ago, you wouldn't want to be alone with any one of these kids."

Pub Date: 6/04/96

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