To get the most out of their school years, some students with disabilities learn in a SDC.
At American High School, we aim to do things together as one community. We eat lunch in the same place. We borrow books from the same place. We watch rallies from the same gym. One area this mindset doesn’t always extend to is classrooms. A fraction of the student population consists of students with disabilities, and, based on the different educational needs of each of these students, they are placed in an SDC, also known as a Special Day Class.
“The students in this class have certain educational disabilities, like dyslexia, and they need extra support in order to access the curriculum,” explained Mr. Schubert, who teaches SDC social studies. “‘Access the curriculum’ means that the state of California sets out a bunch of guidelines that all the teachers are supposed to teach in order for the students to be able to have access to what we’re supposed to teach.”
This extra support can come in many forms and differs for each student depending on what environment he or she will work best in.
“For example, [if] somebody’s dyslexic…that means they confuse the letters of a word so it slows down their ability to read. So, what we’d do is shorten an assignment. Instead of having them read 13 or 20 pages in a book, we would have them read 7 to 10,” said Mr. Schubert. “There’s another disability called dysgraphia, which is where people have difficulty writing and they have trouble figuring out how to spell words. So, instead of a five-page paper, we’d have a two-page paper [on the] same topic.”
Moreover, students who attend general education classes alongside special education classes are included in their own agreements if need be.
“For me, since I can keep up with people but not understand [the material] all the way, I would probably get a little bit extra time for tests to push me. If you do get [accommodations], it’s usually not huge. It’s not a free pass,” commented Carolyn Magnane (9). “We do everything the same; it’s just tailored to us. All of our minds are different. Say somebody gets an accommodation. They’re getting the same work, but different [conditions].”
To paint a better picture of the importance of applying the provided accommodations at school, Magnane shared an example from one of her classes:
“One time, I wasn’t able to finish my test and I kind of got frustrated because I was like ‘Oh my god, I can’t finish it and it’s a big part of my grade.” So, my teacher was like ‘It’s fine, you’ll get your accommodations,’ and the next day I came and took it, which was fine, and I finally finished it. They’re all very understanding.”
The priority is education and allowing students to reach their potential at their own pace. In some situations, when a student is improving greatly in his or her performance, he or she will be transferred from a special education class to a general education class.
“We’re required by the law to attempt to put kids into general ed if we think they might succeed. Not if we know they’re going to succeed, but if we think they might succeed. That’s important,” said Mr. Schubert. “So, we put them in there and we set up the accommodations, which are like short assignments or…extra time to do an assignment. There are teachers at the school who will bend over backwards for kids. They implement the accommodations and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
The results aren’t always predictable and students might not “click” instantly with a class when integrated, even with adjustments for assignments. So, what if proper accommodations aren’t being made for students? Why is that happening? Luckily, that isn’t part of a teacher’s evil ploy to make students’ lives harder.
“There’s a lack of communication between special ed, administration, and the teachers involved. Once we start talking about it though–Everybody wants to see their kids succeed, and it feels good to see a kid who isn’t doing a good job now, figure out how to help him or her, and push them along. Any time there’s a lack of cooperation, it’s not [intentional]. It’s about the lack of communication.”
Students who feel that they are not receiving the assistance they need can take the initiative themselves. Although Magnane herself has not had to take such steps, she does keep in mind what one can do to resolve the issue.
“I would go to my case manager, who is a person who sees if I still need help with anything, and then they will let my teachers know,” she said. “If I really needed to, I would go to my parents. Like, I would go to my mom and let her know what’s going on, but my case manager…would fix it right away.”
Naturally, for SDC teachers, it’s not easy having so many different students with different ways of obtaining and transferring information. It does require knowing and understanding each and every student that walks through your door, but is that really a negative thing?
“It’s really challenging sometimes and you just have to give separate assignments to different kids. But, you wanna know what the upside is?” described Mr. Schubert, “The upside is that…I have [some] small classes of about 15 kids and I’m going to have [them] next year as juniors and seniors, so I really get to develop a close relationship with the students and it’s super fun.”
Caption: Here at AHS, accommodations are made to ensure that students who have disabilities are given as much of an equal and education-rich experience as others at the school. This can range from time extensions on classwork to a bus intended for use by students with disabilities. “Special ed is always evolving because what is happening is that people who are involved in special ed–the parents, the students themselves, the California State Legislature, the Federal Government–are always trying to improve things based on our evolving knowledge of special needs,” explained Mr. Schubert. “Evolution of special ed happens constantly.”