LAUSD's Division of Special Education teaches real-world skills to all

Children with special learning needs are more prone to slipping through the cracks of the public school system than any other group. The Los Angeles Unified School District's Division of Special Education is charged with seeing that never occurs, providing programs and services for over 82,000 students with disabilities including over 300 infants and toddlers, over 6,400 preschoolers and over 75,000 students from kindergarten to age 22.

"It's critical for us to continue to promote integration, ensure equity and create meaningful educational opportunities for all of our students," said Sharyn Howell, executive director. "It is equally important for the district to ensure that every student with a disability completes high school with the skills and resources they need."

The division serves students with a range of physical and intellectual special needs, including autism, deafness and visual impairment.

A signature offering of the division is the Adapted Physical Education program, which combines different learning styles -- physical, cognitive and social -- with adapted sports activities.

Students "learn through sports competition, develop all aspects of fitness and promote the development of life-long fitness skills," said Cyndi Martinich, coordinator of Adapted Physical Education for the LAUSD's Division of Special Education.

The division partnered with the Special Olympics to develop an athletic curriculum called the Young Athletes Program for students from 3 to 7 years of age.

"YAP introduces children to sport skills and play activities that foster physical, cognitive and social development," Martinich said. "One of the things that makes this program so special is that it is a partnership with one of the largest volunteer sports programs in the world, Special Olympics."

With this partnership, the division developed training programs for soccer and track and field events, culminating in a competitive event called the School Games.

YAP is being implemented for more than 1,800 students, and 187 schools participate in the School Games.

"Our program stands out from the rest because we create athletic competitions for elementary and middle school aged students with disabilities who are often mentored by their non-disabled peers at their school sites," Martinich said. "The LAUSD believes that if we provide opportunities at a young age, our students will become more successful at athletic competitions and will pursue an active lifelong lifestyle."

For older students with special needs, a Division of Special Education highlight is the Miller Career and Transition Center, the first of its kind designed for continuing education of 18- to 22-year-olds.

The program provides employment training with an emphasis on teaching entry-level job skills to students who are work capable.

"We emphasize a hands-on, practical transition to work program that equips students with the skills, tools and support necessary to live and work as independently as possible after they leave," said Wayne Foglesong, principal of the Miller Center.

The individual work programs emphasize attributes necessary for workplace success.

"Those 'soft skills' include having a positive attitude, being trustworthy, being cooperative, dressing appropriately, advocating for oneself, following all equipment and workplace safety guidelines, taking the initiative, demonstrating self-control, following the lead and instructions of your supervisor, taking constructive criticism, interacting appropriately with co-workers and customers, and being responsible," Foglesong said.

The center offers 18 work programs including auto detailing, groundskeeping, culinary arts, fundamentals of construction, furniture refinishing and repair, graphic arts, farming, landscaping, retail, and theater arts and set design. The curriculum provides practical training and, in the last year, real-life experience at on-the-job locations near where the students live.

The center also provides training for public transportation use, as many students use trains and buses to travel to class and work.

"The ultimate goal will be to also provide training for students who have mild-to-moderate disabilities, who may be on a diploma program, but who may lack the work and social skills necessary to be employed," Foglesong said.

Above all, the Division of Special Education is centered on the district's vision that all students will complete high school life-ready, college-prepared and career-ready for the 21st century.

"We believe in recognizing the worth of each individual, valuing differences, celebrating the diversity of our student population, and integrating general and special education students for the enrichment of all," Howell said.

For more information visit achieve.lausd.net/sped.

-Alicia Doyle, Tribune Content Solutions

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