Teachers, therapists adjust how they help special education students

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KNOX, Ind. - Thousands of schools across Indiana and Michigan have had to change the way they do things this year - however, one group perhaps most affected by the disruption are special education students.

Inside room 513 at Knox Elementary School sits 6 students ready to take on the day.

"So each student has different needs. So you have to like to sit down and like, almost prepare for what might or could happen with that student, and always have everything ready to go right there," Jennifer Fletcher, the Applied Skills Teacher at Knox Elementary said.

These students have a variety of different disabilities from behavior to speech impairments.

“Many of my students have autism. I also work with or orthopedic impairment, students. I've worked with the blind and deaf. I've had students with just cognitive disabilities, behavior disabilities. I can teach just about anything in our classroom," she said.

But when classes went virtual last march “that was really difficult," Fletcher said.

Special education teachers had to regroup and rethink how to help their students.

“So we get in contact with the parents, we want them to understand that we know what they're going through. But we want to try to keep their schedule as close as we can do what it's like at school so that they have that consistency going back and forth," Alyssa Thayer, the ED (Emotional Disabilities) Resource Room Teacher said.

Some educators even doing home visits.

“We would go to their house and we would you know, they'd be in the house, we'd be outside," Fletcher said.

She said it’s because these students need that in-person connection.

“We don't want them to lose that connection with us. Because once they lose it, it's like starting all over again. And with that routine, and just the bonds and stuff," she said.

Knox is one of few districts in Starke County to remain open.

And with almost 16% of Knox's student population enrolled in special education programs, it’s important the multiple teachers, therapists, and paraprofessionals are there to make sure those students succeed.

“So we have one adult to every about every two kids. And that allows us to kind of get one working and then turn around and help another one," she said.

For some special education students, not much has changed.

“If I'm looking at just a straight articulation student? No, I don't think so. I feel like they're already accommodating. They changed the way they speak to be understood. I think they kind of know-how to roll with it. I think some of the processing kids, it's hard because as she alluded to the consistency of their schedule, I think that bothers them. But no, I think we're all in this together," Teri Baker, a Speech-Language Pathologist said.

But for other students, who let's say are on the autism spectrum, it can be a hard transition.

“It's very difficult in our classroom, our students are still learning many social skills, or shift social skills, they get into our bubbles, we want to say they don't understand that they need to stay six feet apart, they don't understand that they have to wear a mask," Fletcher said. "So they're constantly, you know, still coming in for those hugs and squeezes, and they're still, they need that too. So we're trying to separate them as best as we can. But they don't understand it at this point."

“It can be difficult with some students, because they like to be close, or they like to give a hug. And you just you do your best to kind of accommodate that in different ways," Baker said.

“We want to make sure that they always know not only for the kids but for the parents that we're always here. We're always here to give support and anything that they would need to," Fletcher said.

Coming up on Thursday, our Learning Curve team is headed to Benton Harbor to see how that school district is making sure it’s kids are taken care of and you’re going to meet one young boy with autism from Knox creating the best of a unique situation.

As always if you have any questions, concerns or comments email us at LearningCurve@abc57.com

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