Colonel Johnston Elementary School, located here at Fort Huachuca, offers a special needs program for those children, 5 – 9, who require extra assistance outside of the basic classes taught.
The Cross Categorical program is offered for children who have an Individualized Education Plan and struggle with disabilities such as autism, developmental delays and other health impairments. The class is built to instruct up to 10 students at a time, with nine students currently enrolled. Each student is taught based on his or her academic grade level, currently ranging from kindergarten to third grade. Due to the small class number, this program is only offered to those children who reside on Fort Huachuca.
On a daily basis, Kim Harney, the Cross Categorical teacher, and a team of other teachers dedicated to special needs children, commit themselves to these children, providing them with the knowledge and skills required to not only mature intellectually, but to function in public environments, based on the students’ needs.
Harney has instructed the Cross Categorical program at Colonel Johnston Elementary School for six years and has taught special needs classes for a total of 21 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Special Education and a master’s degree in Deaf Education. In regards to her experience with special needs children, Harney makes it clear. “Every kid is just a kid. I want [them] to be accepted just like any other kid, because they are, just that.” She says that frustration builds when the class is in public and people treat them differently because they have a disability. In an effort to lessen this segregation, working alongside Harney is a full-time aide, a resource teacher and an occupational therapist.
Just as the basic elementary classes run, this program is held during regular school hours and there is a designated bus that picks the students up at their door and then takes them home at the end of the school day.
When a typical day begins, Harney or her full time aide meet the students at the bus and walk with them to the classroom. They begin with morning greetings to initiate communication and gather for circle time. The mornings are focused primarily on academics, due to the fresh and alert minds. Circle time consists of the day of the week, the weather of the day, planned activities and what the schedule will look like for the day. After that, the students work on reading and listening activities, often listening to sounds and determining what the sound is. Once completed, energy is released during recess and then followed by a morning snack. Based on the students’ academic level, they will get one-on-one instruction and then lunch. After lunch, the students have outside time and then come in to finish the day with social time and arts and crafts. The full-time aide will direct them to the bus again, and they are taken home to practice their newfound knowledge.
Once a week, the class integrates with the public, taking Community Based Instruction field trips, in which everyday skills are practiced. Harney explains, “The purpose of the Community Based Instruction is to work on skills at school, appropriate everyday skills that you would expect a normal kid to do. Walking in the hallway, [using] appropriate inside voices, [using] appropriate lunch table manners. So we do all that here [at school] and then we go out once a week so that they can practice those skills in a community setting. We go to lunch; we have gone to Burger King, the diner, and the food court. When we are down town, we have gone swimming at the Cove, went to McDonalds … ” This interaction assists the students in adapting to situations that may otherwise cause anxiety, such as adjusting to large crowds or remaining calm when surrounded by loud noises. Trips to the bowling alley, the Cove, and horse back riding aid in occupational therapy and motor skills, as well.
According to Harney, if a parent feels as though their child is in need of extra assistance in school, the first place to start is with their teacher. Communicate with the teacher, request a conference, and discuss the concerns. If the teacher is in agreement, testing will be determined and if necessary, an Individualized Education Plan is created.
Other special needs programs that Colonel Johnston Elementary School offers are behavior coaching, occupational and physical therapy, resource teaching, speech therapy, special needs preschool and reading and math assistance.
For more questions about the Cross Categorical Program or other special needs programs, contact Kim Harney, Cross Categorical teacher, 459.8798 or visit http://www.fthuachuca.k12.az.us/coljohnston/site/default.asp.