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FWCS to keep special-needs case managers

Board cites pilot program’s success

After a successful trial run, Fort Wayne Community Schools will expand and continue a pilot program designed to help elementary children with emotional disabilities succeed in school.

The FWCS board approved a $165,000 contract Monday that will provide salaries for 11 case managers for various elementary school classrooms.

Students with emotional disorders are not able to process information and understand the consequences of their behavior like most other children.

The pilot began three years ago at St. Joe Center and Price and South Wayne elementary schools. At that time, the district had 21 students who were placed in an alternative school setting at Park Center because of emotional and behavioral disorders, said Ann Barnes-Smith, director of special education.

“Last year, that number decreased to nine students, and this year it was only four students,” Barnes-Smith said.

The district previously was paying more than $350,000 for alternative school placements, she said, and that has been whittled down to less than half the cost.

The secret to each student’s success in school is early intervention, she said.

The earlier a child learns coping mechanisms, the easier it is for that student to enter middle school with fewer problems.

Since the program began, some of the students have moved on to middle school.

“We are not having quite the number of issues we once had in middle schools,” Barnes-Smith said.

Case managers work with the students in many ways, she said.

“Whether it is in a small group, one-on-one, or assisting with a transition, the caseworker will work with students in all of the above,” she said.

The caseworkers provide social-skill groups, keep records of daily activities, observe students and help teachers with records and data and assist students in making the transition from special education settings to the general education setting.

While caseworkers are working with and helping emotionally disabled students cope and de-escalate their behaviors so that they can return to the classroom setting, the teacher is able to continue educating the rest of the students, without interruptions.

Many children with emotional disabilities are not readily apparent or visible, and therefore, Barnes-Smith said, tricky to diagnose.

“They appear to be just like everyone else,” she said. “The secret is finding them early and intervening. Then they will be able to enter middle school with more confidence and achieve much more.”

Mark GiaQuinta, FWCS school board president, said: “Keeping these kids in a school environment by having these caseworkers close by is a good thing. Having people who know these kids and know their needs is also a good thing.”