Walking into room 311 at Clarkston Junior High, I expected to see students acting like children, sitting in an elementary-like setting. But I was very wrong. I didn’t see anyone acting like a child. And I didn’t see anything that reminded me of elementary school.
What I saw when I walked in was a room like any other at the junior high. Computers lined the walls, desks were arranged in groups of four, there was a stack of chapter books on the shelf, and motivational posters decorated the desks and doors.
But it wasn’t just the classroom decor that told me that this room, and the students in it, were something special. It was the atmosphere. Some students and the para-educators in the room chatted and joked and some students were reading, while others were on the computers, doing homework, or watching the Scooby Doo movie projected on the wall.
I met Corbin, a freshman who has no filter in regards to his speech. When I sat down to interview him on what he loved about school, he proceeded to ask me questions at lightening speed. What kind of food did I like? Why did I have a camera? How loud should he talk? After a few minutes of questions, he told me that his favorite subject was science, and that he loved this experiment they did in class–making a pop cap shoot off the bottle by putting a Mento candy inside, which is something I remember doing my freshman year.
I also met Sara, a student who barely speaks, unless she’s repeating what you’ve just said. She was having lunch at a table in the classroom with Jamie Hacker and Grace Peterson–two general education students who are friends with Sara, and take their time with her to encourage her to speak.
What I saw when I walked into that room was something real inspiring.
The Clarkston Community School Board is cutting one-third of the para-educators in the district in the coming year. In the classroom that I visited, there were six paras for about 42 special-education students. That’s seven students for each teacher. Cutting one-third of the teachers means that next year, the ratio would be about 10 to 11 special-education students per teacher. These educators must give each student the proper amount of attention to help them exceed even their own expectations.
Check out this video of my day and my interview with para-educator Pam Wilson.