SpEd classroom upgrade makes students more comfortable

New SpEd classroom allows teachers to cater to student needs

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Baya Burgess
Junior Ethan Sigourney works on a project alongside his teachers. The SpEd program helps students develop different skills, including cooking and cleaning in the new kitchen across the hall. “[The students] cook, they do the laundry, and they clean up after themselves,” SpEd teacher Denise Posey said.

One word can sum up the most notable aspect of the 2019-2020 school year: construction. With new chairs and tables in the cafeteria, a modern library with glass pods for individual studying and ultra-wide learning stairs, the school’s atmosphere has dramatically changed compared to last year.

While most students have been making use of the renovated features throughout the school, the Special Education program has been settling into a brand new space—one which most students will never see throughout their four years. 

When the library was rebuilt upstairs, the SpEd program inherited the empty space, which has made a world of difference for the program. Now equipped with a kitchen area and several differing classrooms, teachers can cater to each student’s specific needs.

 

Baya Burgess
Junior Dorian Horton eats lunch at a new desk. SpEd teacher Marie Wheeler described how teachers had to be creative in making the space comfortable for students. “It was a struggle at first but it is definitely [an improvement],” Wheeler said.

Before, the SpEd space had no windows, requiring harsh fluorescent light bulbs to illuminate the room. Now, the classrooms have large windows in every room.

We’ve never had a classroom with natural light, we’ve always been an inside classroom,” special education teacher Erin Campbell said.  “That’s just made a world of difference I think—for staff attitude, our kids attitude, just having that natural light in there.”

The classrooms were also located at the front of the school last year, which could have caused a safety issue in case of an intruder or other emergency. 

Baya Burgess
Freshman Kaydence Bennett sits quietly in her new workspace. Initially the pillars in the middle of the room presented a challenge, but teachers found ways to utilize the space. “That pilar became a good background for [Bennett] to protect her from sound coming from the back,” SpEd teacher Marie Wheeler said.

“We aren’t really close to a door, which is nice,” paraeducator Denise Posey said. “Before we had to worry about how if something bad did happen, how we’re going to get out.”

But the classrooms being more secluded has also had some negative aspects. Before the construction, the classrooms were right next to the commons. Now that the SpEd classrooms are deeper into the school, it’s more difficult for the program to interact with general education students.

“We had more interaction with the school,” Posey said. “People would come into the kitchen; we saw more people.”

Another issue for the SpEd program was the time period during construction, where teachers faced a special set of challenges that were amplified by the specific needs of the students.

“The temperature was either really hot or really, really cold,” Posey said. “Probably the biggest thing in our area was that there was a lot of noise, and some of our kids are very sensitive.” 

Baya Burgess
Freshman Emma Joseph writes on a new desk. Teachers feel the transition in space has been positive but difficult. “The space was not designed to be a special education classroom.” SpEd teacher Marie Wheeler said. “We had to be super creative with where we were setting up work stations.”

Now that the SpEd program has a brand new space, the old rooms are being used by GenEd teachers who utilize the lack of carpet and extra cabinet space for projects without worrying about staining the floor.  

“I really appreciate how much storage there is,” JAG teacher Rebecca Metz said. “I also like that the floor is not super nice, so we’re allowed to do projects and not worry a whole lot about getting it super dirty. I’m not an art teacher, but my class does do a lot of activities.” 

Paraeducators feel the benefits of the new SpEd room outweigh the challenges they faced during construction. With more space, sunlight and tools, the improved SpEd rooms are a significant step towards ensuring students in the program are as comfortable and well cared for as possible.

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