A look inside Solon High School’s Special Education Program

Cafe students Savannah Haas and Trentyn Hogue working on the cash register during their shift.

Cafe students Savannah Haas and Trentyn Hogue working on the cash register during their shift.

Riley Lavine, Staff Writer

On the first floor, towards the end of the art hallway, lie the classrooms of the special education students and staff here at Solon High School. Although several students have visited the Solon Café, or have seen these students around the hallways, many of them do not know much about what these students do and learn each and every day.

The special education program here at SHS provides learning opportunities for students of all ages, and these opportunities differ as these students get older and move through grade levels.

Dina Weber, intensive instruction resource teacher at SHS, explains how the academics they teach in the program focus on the extended content standard.

“The standards that we follow are extended and modified, we take the parts that are most important and apply it to the level of the individual student,” Weber said.

Weber explains how although the students are learning the same things academically, they are also focusing on life skills that they can use in their future. Tasks that the students may have to do in their everyday lives such as counting money and building relationships are broken down and constructed in a way to provide exposure for them.

“Hopefully when they are at home or whatever their future living plan is,” Weber said. “They can do those things for themselves and they don’t have to rely on somebody else to do it for them or to always have constant supervision with it. We all want to be proud of the little success that we can have.”

Similar to how several students at SHS have jobs, whether that is at a summer camp or babysitting, the freshman and sophomore students in this special education program also have pre-vocational opportunities included in their curriculum, such as the Solon Café.

If students are not necessarily ready to work directly in the café, there are several behind-the-scenes jobs that also provide important life lessons and skills such as creating special hot chocolate bags around the holidays or restocking and putting away Gatorade bottles.

“Educators throughout the country try their best to create tasks that mimic a real job,” Weber said. “But there is so much more purpose when you actually have that real job.”

SHS special education student, Joey Woods, stated he enjoys the exercise component of the program as well as working in the café.

“I work on the cash register, and I enjoy seeing the students when they come in,” Woods said.

Candid photo of students and staff working in the Solon Café

The special education program also includes a social component for their students through the Council for Exceptional Children Club (CEC) and the peer leader program. These programs are able to close that gap between neurotypical students and students with disabilities.

The peer leader program allows certain students to actually become fully immersed into the classrooms and create meaningful relationships with several special education students.

“It doesn’t take a lot, it is just that interaction of ‘Hi, my name is so and so, it is nice to meet you’,” Weber said. “And then our students can reiterate that and practice those basic general communication skills. Just those little interactions mean a lot to our students and when our students are walking in the hallway there is a familiar face.”

Cheryl Massey, an interventionist at SHS, works with junior and senior students, as well as students who have already completed graduation requirements and helps them transition into their future occupations outside of the school. In the state of Ohio, students with disabilities are entitled to attend school until they graduate or turn 22, when a student with disabilities turns 18, the right as a student with disabilities to either stay in school or continue with other after high school plans, turns to the student.

These students work at various businesses throughout the community such as Alesci’s, Yours Truly and Old Navy, during the day in order for them to get direct vocational experience.

“The students get two worksites each semester,” Massey said. “So they get a total of four different types of businesses that they can go into and see if they like it.”

One initiative Massey introduced to this program is the opportunity for the students to have mock interviews, using different staff members to provide feedback for the students and finding jobs that the kids would be interested in online.

“The students all got dressed up, and we had chairs outside the hall where they had to wait for the interviewer to come out and get them,” Massey said. “Some of the other kids walking down the hall were like wow I wish I could’ve done that, so I know that there is a lot that we do that the student body doesn’t know about.”

Furthermore, every Wednesday, the students in Massey’s class get to focus on tasks they will need to do in the future after they leave high school. These things include, narrowing down the jobs that they either like or do not like, determining what soft skills they need to develop for these jobs, learning how to budget for living and car expenses and various other things to figure out when they are independent.

“There are different agencies we work with as well for kids who are transitioning out of school,” Massey said. “Such as Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) and the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities.”

Massey coordinates with these agencies so when these students graduate, the transition of guidance for these students goes smoothly and makes the students feel comfortable.

The special education program is not only designed to help educate and provide opportunities for just the students in that program, it is also used as a way to help educate other students and help enable more interactions between special education students and the rest of the student body.

“Kids that cannot regulate their behaviors should not be contained in a room all by themselves just because they have a disability that is out of their control,” Weber said. “The important thing is that we, as teachers, explain it.”

The special education program is an integral part of the SHS community and should be recognized by the entire student body. The impact that these teachers have on the future lives of their students is very important and can be used as a learning tool for programs around the world.