Partnering program appears perfect fit

Education Beat


Students from three very different classrooms gathered around a table at Cedar Lane School on Wednesday, using glitter, glue and markers to decorate brown paper bags for trick-or-treating.

A simple project, but for Melissa Preston, it was the moment she had been working toward.

"This is my home run," she said. "This is my magnum opus."

As inclusion support teacher for Lime Kiln Middle School and Cedar Lane -- a one-year grant position -- it is her job to bring together students from the two schools.

Cedar Lane, for students ages 3 to 20 with special needs that require a separate school, was moved this year from its old location in Columbia to a new site attached to Lime Kiln in Fulton. A key reason for the move was to ensure interaction between the two groups of students. And Preston, formerly a Cedar Lane teacher, is making that happen.

Since the start of the school year, Cedar Lane students have been attending some classes and activities at Lime Kiln, and Lime Kiln pupils in special needs classes have been attending classes on occasion at Cedar Lane.

But the program that started last week is much greater in scope. Seventy middle-schoolers from Lime Kiln will be coming to Cedar Lane on a regular basis to work with the students there in a buddy program that will last the entire school year. It is the first time middle school pupils have taken part in a service learning project at Cedar Lane.

"I was expecting anywhere from 12 to 20 kids to sign up," Preston said. Preston noted that Cedar Lane has only about 20 middle-school students, and a few of them are not eligible for the buddy program, so each Cedar Lane student will be lavished with Lime Kiln buddies.

The Lime Kiln pupils, who will go to Cedar Lane for 50 minutes several times a week during time set aside for academic enrichment exercises, earn credit toward the service-hours requirement they need to complete before they graduate from high school, Preston said.

They will be paired with a particular Cedar Lane student, and will help out as needed. To get the credit, the Lime Kiln pupils will have to submit an artifact at the end of the year, she said. It could be a photo album, a research paper, even a board game, Preston said.

Robert Glazer, a sixth-grade social studies and physical education teacher at Lime Kiln, said pupils had to fill out an application for the program, telling why they wanted to be in the program. The form had to be signed by a parent. "We were amazed," he said, at how many students signed up.

Students also have to be in good shape academically, Preston noted.

On Wednesday, groups of Lime Kiln pupils met in the cafeteria, then were sent to different Cedar Lane classes for the first time. One classroom also happened to have students from Lime Kiln's Academic Life Skills program, for students who need specialized education, but are still able to attend Lime Kiln.

"Hey, that's my cousin," said Jen Surrette, 13, as she walked into the classroom and spotted Joey MacDonald, also 13, who is in the Academic Life Skills program at Lime Kiln. She immediately sat down next to him and the two began talking happily as Joey wrote "Happy Halloween" on his bag in green glitter.

Joey was remembering that he won a free-throw contest last year. "How happy were you?" he asked his cousin.

"I was so happy," she said.

"Were you like, `Joey! Joey! Joey!'" he said, pretending to chant.

"Yes, I was."

"I think everybody went crazy when I won," Joey said. "It was so amazing."

"It was great," agreed Jen.

Meanwhile, Gianna Totaro and Angela Cobb helped Jessica Cass make a smiley face out of glitter glue on her bag.

"Jen and Joey inspired me," Gianna said. "It just seems like a good thing that you can do."

Jerry Platt, the middle-school team teacher at Cedar Lane, said the Lime Kiln and Cedar Lane students were already getting to know one another. "Some of our students have been going over and eating lunch with the Lime Kiln students," he said.

Cedar Lane has three inclusion support teachers on staff to serve as liaisons between Cedar Lane and the general education population, Preston said. Mary Larocco, the elementary liaison, is working closely with Fulton Elementary, while Wendy Cohen Holbrook, the high school coordinator, is involved with Reservoir High School, Preston said.

For Preston, watching all the middle-schoolers sit down and work together was everything she could have wanted. "They jump in with both feet," she said, noting that not one Lime Kiln pupil had lingered by the doorway. "I'm constantly pleased and surprised with the kids at Lime Kiln."

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