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Special Services a high point at Oak Hill

BY Spencer Durham - sdurham@chronicle-tribune.com

MIER — Special Services was the focus of Oak Hill’s school board meeting Monday evening as program director Debra St. Clair gave a presentation to the board.

Special Services encompasses services and activities for students with disabilities at Oak Hill. For St. Clair and the rest of the staff, the purpose is to create a unified school and prepare students for when their academic careers are over.

There are two halves of the program offered in the classrooms, St. Clair said. There are services for students who have mild learning or cognitive disabilities but are still able to learn in a regular classroom. This includes staff members going into classrooms and helping students with course material.

Also included is Life Readiness. This is also for students with special needs in general education classrooms but who need more specific training. Often times this is vocational training, job coaching and community work, St. Clair said.

“Our kids need to learn a trade or skill so when they leave ... they have some sort of skills that can transfer over to a vocational setting,” she said.

The other half is what is called Life Skills classrooms. St. Clair said the purpose is to better support students who are not in a traditional classroom setting and need more functional living support, vocational support and living skills.

“There’s quite a range of options for students at Oak Hill,” St. Clair said.

That range extends for beyond the classroom, however. Just as important is the extracurricular aspect of the program.

St. Clair helped established Unified Basketball and Baseball to get kids with special needs involved with something other than just going to school. Often times, kids with special needs are stuck watching their siblings’ games and activities.

“Our students didn’t have anything to do outside of come to school and go home,” St. Clair said, recalling when she first started.

Unified Basketball plays during halftime of varsity boys’ basketball games and had their very first tournament last weekend. Six years in, St. Clair said there’s enjoyment all around.

“These kids live for this,” she told the board. “The kids are happy, the parents are happy, they’re busy ... and they have a great time.”

There’s also Unified Baseball which has been welcomed into the Oak Hill Youth Baseball League in Sweetser. With all of their athletics activities (track is coming soon), St. Clair said kids don’t just play with each other, but with peer partners – children who do not have disabilities.

“We’re bridging that gap between special ed and gen ed ...We’re becoming a more unified school,” she said.

Outside athletics, Oak Hill offers therapeutic horse riding. St. Clair said it helps students build self-confidence, listening skills and many other skills. Teachers also get involved which provides learning moments for students.

St. Clair told the board a story about one teacher who was very apprehensive about riding a horse. The students were able to see one of their teachers in a very relatable situation, which goes a long way in building connections, St. Clair said.

“Seeing a teacher in a vulnerable situation and having fears ... having that role reversal, there are so many embedded lessons in all that you (we) do,” she said. “It’s meaningful for everyone involved...”

In other Oak Hill news, the board approved the summer driver’s education fees. This year’s cost will be $365, a $15 increase from last year. Business Manager Deb Smith said the increase is due to the fact the district lost money last year.