What do oatmeal raisin cookies, OSU-themed coat racks and baby chicks have in common?

You would know the answer if you had walked into Carol Johnson’s special education classroom at Bowsher High School on a recent morning.

A couple of her students were at one table mixing up a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies. A short distance away, two more students were assembling an OSU coat rack with a power drill.

And at the next table over, a student was bent over a wooden baby chick, painstakingly painting the door decoration that had been ordered by a TPS employee. Similar chicks and Easter bunnies were complete and lined up on shelves and hanging along one wall, ready to be delivered to the customers who had paid $15 each for them.

At first glance, the projects seem to have nothing in common, but they’re all designed to provide the students with life skills that will help them live on their own and enter the workforce.

Mrs. Johnson has been a special education teacher with TPS for 32 years and is a strong advocate for the profession.

"I enjoy the classroom, I enjoy the students and I love to have them accomplish things,” she said. “I like to see their faces light up and get confident in their work ethics."

Toledo Public Schools, in accordance with federal and state law, is responsible for identifying, locating and evaluating all children ages 3-21 residing within its district who may be in need of special education and related services. The district’s special education department currently services about 4,500 students (out of the 22,000 that TPS has) and there is a strong emphasis on addressing the specific needs of each child, said Beth Barrow, director of student services.

For example, a child who might just need help reading will work with an intervention specialist in his or her general classroom and the range of services goes all the way up to Mrs. Johnson’s self-contained classroom.

“Plus, we offer such related services as occupational, speech and physical therapies,” Ms. Barrow said.

The emphasis on offering a continuum of services from pre-school through graduation stems from the belief that special education is a service, rather than a place, and providing the help that is needed is the best way to fulfil that service.

The district has Intervention Response Teams in each building to observe and provide early help to students. These teams are made up of classroom teachers, administrators and parents. The student’s teacher brings data to the team concerning academic and/or behavior issues. The team then suggests interventions and supports. If the team feels that the student needs more than what can be provided through interventions, the next step is an evaluation.

The district strives to include students with disabilities in regular classrooms because such educational settings provide stimulation, modelling for learning and chances to learn positive social and vocational skills and to build self-esteem. Staff is provided to support both the general education teacher and the student with disabilities.

Dedicated to providing the best service to all of its students, TPS is looking for special education teachers, school psychologists, occupational and physical therapists and paraprofessionals like the two who work with the students in Mrs. Johnson’s classroom. A job fair was held on Thursday, March 19 but those who missed that can apply using the online application found under the Employment tab at www.tps.org.

"If you are a special education teacher, you will know it,” Mrs. Johnson said. “You will be drawn to these types of students, and they will be drawn [to] you.”

Written on March 19, 2015