Cardinal Newman to offer inclusive education program next year

COLUMBIA—Children with special needs are the same in the eyes of God as any other child, and diocesan schools are making this true in the eyes of their community as well.

Cardinal Newman became the second school to make inclusion a reality with the creation of The DeLaSalle Program, which will be offered in the next academic year.

Modeled after the Options program at Bishop England High School in Charleston, it will assimilate cognitively challenged students into every aspect of high school life, said its principal, Jacqualine Kasprowski. Several parents have already expressed an interest in enrolling their children, and the school has hired Suzy Parrott Madden as program director.

Madden is a Cardinal Newman alum who is certified in special education. Kasprowski said Madden will start in January and will design the program and interview potential students and their families for the 2012-13 school year.

“They will become full-fledged members of this community,” she said. “Our teachers and administrators are really looking forward to having the opportunity to implement the program. We really believe in it. We believe it goes hand in hand with our mission at the school.”

The goal of inclusion is reflected in naming the program after John Baptiste DeLaSalle, who is the patron saint of teachers.

“He strongly believed that all people, especially the young, have an inherent dignity from being created in the image of God, and that education is the means of developing that inherent dignity,” Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone wrote in a letter of support.

Bishop Guglielmone and Msgr. Richard D. Harris, vicar general, gave the DeLaSalle program their stamp of approval. The bishop said he was proud that a second diocesan high school was offering cognitively challenged students an opportunity for an inclusive academic experience.

Bishop England was the first school to do so when they established Options in 2007. Martine Boudreaux, the director, received the Serving All God’s Children Award for her part in developing and implementing the program.

She said an essential part of inclusion is how accepting the students are of the special needs teenagers. At Bishop England, they are greeted by name, given high-fives in the hallway, and included in the social scene of high school life.

Educational expectations are also a factor. Students who had only been taught to count learned to add, subtract, multiply, divide and perform basic algebra within six months.

Supporters of inclusive education note that research has consistently documented the benefits for all students. Bishop Guglielmone said it certainly proved beneficial to all the students “in terms of Christian understanding and acceptance of all who are involved.”

Kasprowski called the two schools partners in education. She said Cardinal Newman worked closely with Bishop England to create the DeLaSalle plan, and that it would be very similar to Options.

She added that her teachers are already used to working with individual students because they have applied the concept of differentiated learning for years.

Cardinal Newman runs from seventh to 12th grade, and Kasprowski said they will accept no more than three students at each level. Applications will be available in February.