Public schools are being asked to do so much right now, and so much of what they are being forced to do is a waste of time. Music and the arts are being cut, students are overloaded with standardized tests, and even recess is being shortened so work can be completed. In short, schools are being forced to run like businesses, but our children are not raw materials, nor are they products. They are children. And when the pendulum swings back (I hope to God it does), when more rational heads prevail in remembering that we are teaching human beings how to be human beings, rather than filling little heads with facts, maybe then the schools will have an opportunity to begin filling gaps and opening doors for our students with special needs. Here are some ways they could begin:
- Mentor/Mentee programs These programs connect students with an adult in the school community who can meet with them on a regular basis, build a positive relationship, and provide guidance to students. The Boy has built this kind of relationship with the business and computer teacher at school, quite organically. He doesn’t even have her as a teacher, but they use time with her as a reward for positive behaviors at school, and she is often a reason he wants to go to school.
- Peer to Peer programs I’ve written about how successful these programs can be not only for students with special needs, but for typical students, as well. Building Relationships between kids, and providing avenues for them to learn about each other as people can only result in good things. When everyone’s needs are met, bullying just isn’t a thing.
- Peer Mediation programs These programs foster conflict resolution skills in our young people. At first they are taught and coached through the steps of providing mediation for peers who are in conflict. After practice, they become second nature, and the students involved with these programs become leaders, as they have the skills to help their peers relate to each other in positive ways.
- Social Skills programs Carving time out of a busy school day to provide direct instruction to students about how to initiate and maintain positive social interaction seems like it makes perfect sense for those students who naturally have defects in this area. It can also make perfect sense for those students you may assume has these skills already, but may not, or may struggle with these skills privately.
- Critical Thinking Instruction More than anything else, we need to be teaching students how to really think, rather than regurgitate readily available information. We need to be teaching them how to make rational decisions, how to determine whether a source is credible, how to examine their own thoughts and opinions, and how to interpret the world around them. For special needs students, this can be especially difficult, but even more necessary as we prepare them for their adulthoods with varying degrees of assistance.
- Creativity and Problem Solving Instruction Children today do not have much opportunity to be creative. And when we cut art and music programs, we are essentially saying that being creative is not a high priority in today’s job market – what could be further from the truth? There are many ways teachers can provide opportunities within their current limitations to foster creativity and problem solving, and many ways we can help special needs students be creative.
The great thing about school programs that benefit students with special needs is that they often benefit all students. We assume that typical kids don’t struggle with the same things as those with special needs do, but they do. They are often better at hiding it, because it may not be as dire a struggle. What middle schooler do you know that wouldn’t benefit from a social skills class or a peer to peer program? What kindergartner wouldn’t benefit from some opportunities to be creative? What person on Earth would not benefit from having a mentor?
When we finally do something to correct the course of public schools, and begin to focus on the person rather than the content, these 6 programs would be a good start to guiding all of our students to being better human beings.