Special Education

Daily Journal - Daniel J. Kov, dkov@thedailyjournal.com

October 27, 2014

For many parents of special needs children, finding a private school to accommodate the needs and demands of educating their children can be difficult.

But Cumberland Christian School is offering a program tailored specifically to those needs.

Now in its third year, the growing “Rising Stars” program seeks to offer special needs students a comfortable, collective learning environment away from the more demanding requirements of a standard school day.

“They can come and learn at their level without feeling like they’re being singled out,” Wanda Carr, the program’s main instructor, explained. “They have more attention given to them because they’re a small group.”

The program traces its origin to 2012, a creation of Carr’s predecessor, then-instructor Dr. Barbara West.

Carr, a state-certified special education teacher with 27 years experience in public schools, took over the program in September after West retired at the end of the 2013 school year.

Currently, there are seven students in the program, she said.

Rising Stars works by offering students with learning disabilities, cognitive impairments, phyical disabilities, autism and Down syndrome a self-contained classroom with a daily education in the standard K-12 curriculum.

“It makes them enjoy school and it’s not frustrating for them,” Carr said. “They’re able to be successful and be themselves.”

The facility is the only private school in the county to offer such a program, she noted.

Aside from lunch, gym, recess, library visits and other field trips, the students spend most of their school day in one classroom, where Carr and another instructor educate the youngsters in basic math, English and other subjects.

Kids are split between two classrooms and receive their education at a more comfortable pace than their age-level peers.

With the assistance of an aide, Carr leads the groups through a modified curriculum, breaking down concepts and tending to each student to make sure each is caught up before proceeding.

The goal is to ensure the kids don’t feel left behind during their most crucial learning years, Carr said.

Parents have begun to notice a difference.

Kristen Webb was more than excited to enroll her 8-year-old son William Ziegler in the program earlier this school year.

Ziegler, who up until September was taught in the school’s primary education track, would often come home frustrated and upset over feeling left behind while his peers blitzed forward in class, Webb said.

“He always came home upset, he hated school,” she said. “I feel like without that added pressure now he gets the attention that he needs from the teachers. Because there’s only seven children he’s not as distracted. It gives him what he needs to do well.”

Webb, of Vineland, said her son has shown progress in both his education and self-esteem.

“His grades are better now, and he seems to have more friends, which is funny cause it’s a smaller environment,” she said. “It seems to be working out extremely well.”

Carr said reactions like Webb’s have been common place since she took over the program.

“They’re really happy with the progress that the kids are making,” she said. “And they’re really happy to be able to have the opportunity to give their special needs child a chance in a private school. It gives them options.”