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Helping Special Ed Kids Graduate

Lessons from a Georgia school.

In many ways, Crabapple Middle School in Roswell, Georgia, is like a lot of other middle schools when it comes to special education students. Working with the individual's disability, the school's staff creates a modified learning plan and attempts to teach students as well as possible. Like a lot of other school systems, Crabapple realized that while it was succeeding on one front, it was failing on another. Special ed students were learning and progressing, but when graduation loomed, most were not close to meeting the district's requirements. Too often, these students had to settle for a certificate of attendance, which does not allow them to go on to either a two- or four-year college.

"There's a huge difference between learning and graduation," says Mimi Gamel, the school's graduation coach. This year, with the help of a new program from Excent called MyGraduationPlan, Gamel hopes to create individualized plans that will allow students to cross the stage with their peers. Gamel says starting in middle school and listening to the needs and wants of the student are two keys to making this new method ultimately pay off. Getting involved has led to students asking teachers and counselors, "This is what I want for myself. Can you help me?" she says. "Now they are not looking for jobs, but a career."

Crabapple started an "ultimate life summit" last year for its special ed students. About 60 children participated, using the two-day event to discuss leadership, abilities, and goal setting. At least half reported having a better experience in school after the retreat. "Somebody telling them, ‘Yes, you can,' means a lot," Gamel says. And, she adds, MyGraduationPlan "is one program they create that resembles their personality and interests. They can open the program at home and show it to their parents." While it is too early to tell how this may affect graduation, Gamel says students are now more diligent about retaking tests or quizzes if needed, and maintaining the average they need to pass a particular class.

Girls With ADHD at Higher Risk
A recent study in Pediatrics highlighted the reading risk to girls with ADHD. The study examined data from 5,000 Minnesota youth and found that 46.7 percent of girls with ADHD and 51 percent of boys had a reading disability. In children without an attention disorder, only 7.7 percent of girls had a reading disability, compared to 14.5 percent of boys. So the risk for reading problems for girls with ADHD is nearly twice that of boys.

Detroit Fined $5 Mil Over Special Ed
Michigan will deny Detroit Public Schools five million dollars in federal funds because of several flaws with the district's special education program, including a failure to monitor progress, provide trained teachers, and ensure that students are being served in the least restrictive environment. This is the first time the state has withheld money for noncompliance. A spokesman for the district said special education will be a priority for new school chief Robert Bobb.

Public Doesn't "Get" Learning Disabilities
Over half of the general public still believes that learning disabilities are caused by a poor home environment, according to a poll by Connecticut's Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation. The poll also found that 51 percent of the public believes that learning disabilities are sometimes caused by laziness, and that there is a strong—and incorrect—perception that learning disabilities are usually linked to disorders such as autism and ADHD. The need for continued public education is clear.

A new specialized store on iTunes will offer educators apps tailored to special education. Apple opened the store in response to the growing popularity of using iPhones, iPods, and iPads with children who have disabilities. The store will be divided into five categories: communication, hearing, language development, literacy and learning, and organization.

Alphabet Photo Machine
This simple app allows beginning readers to flip through the alphabet and find illustrations and photos of people, places, and things beginning with each letter—think apples and zebras! $1.99.

Locabulary makes communication a breeze by combining location and vocabulary tools.
At a restaurant, for example, students can choose related dining vocabulary, or find medical and science words at a hospital. Free.

Speak It! Text to Speech
Speak It! isn't the fanciest text-to-speech app available, but it's easy to use and inexpensive. Simply type in the phrase you want to say, choose a voice (such as "Heather, American Female"), and click a button to hear your words. $1.99.

ASL Dictionary
With this database of short videos, students can watch and practice more than 4,000 signs in American Sign Language. An easy search feature brings up the desired sign in seconds. $2.99 for a limited time.

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