Education for the 13 Percent


Kelly Stephen, Staff Writer

In approximately 1 in every 68 births, a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is born. This is just one of the learning disabilities that you will find if you walk into one of the special education classrooms at Vista del Lago. Vista’s — and other schools’ –special education programs allow students with learning differences to prepare for life by individualizing their learning and teaching them crucial skills that life will hold after high school.

There are two parts of the special education program at Vista del  Lago: mild disabilities  and moderate-to-severe disabilities. For students with mild disabilities students they “need a little bit of help, some accommodations,” said Elizabeth Sutami, a special education teacher at[ Vista. These students need assistance in some things but are working toward their diploma.

The students with moderate-to-severe are in the classroom with the special education teachers. This helps each student “work at their own level,” said Sutami, and it also helps prepare them for life after high school.

Each student has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that gives each student learning targets. In regular education classrooms, learning is based on the state standards. In special education, these learning targets are based on students’  IEPs and can range from remembering a parent’s phone number to reading and math.

Students who are in the moderate-to-severe program have a wide range of disabilities.“The number one would be autism,” said Sutami. Other disabilities include chromosomal disabilities and cerebral palsy. These students prepare for life by learning skills such as communication and safety.  

These disabilities do not stop these students, though. “My students are able to do things that people don’t expect,” said Sutami. “I have had many students who could recite whole movie scripts and TV show scripts.” Sutami points out how motivated her students are to accomplish such things. “Things that they like, they can remember it forever,” said Sutami.

The students also participate in the Sunshine Friends club. This club meets once a month during advisory to do interactive activities, like create gingerbread houses and play games. They also meet every Tuesday to read and pet therapy dogs. 

Other high schools in the district use similar classroom styles as well. At Cordova High School, they have a program called Independent Living Skills (ILS) that helps students to become “self-sufficient after leaving high school,” said Ann Botsford, an assistant principal at Cordova High School. This program allows students to go out into the community to learn through Community Based Instruction (CBI), “to learn about local businesses and working environments that will peak their interest for employment and they learn how to read bus routes and ride the local buses,” Botsford said.

Cordova, like Vista, also integrates students with mild learning disabilities into regular classrooms. “We also offer co-teaching classes that provide the collaboration of a general-ed teacher and a special-ed teacher to plan instruction and support all students in the areas of English, Math, and Social Science,” said Botsford.

Special education is an important part of our school and allows all students a chance to succeed in their education and later in their lives.