With twenty-six classes being taught in one day in the same classroom, the Special Education Classroom is just that, special!
Eagle River High School is home to one of the district’s special education classes, taught by Ron Snively. He is partnered with other teachers in the school, who all help in the learning process of students with disabilities. They do this in a structured learning classroom setting, which is a blend of teaching life skills such as self care or accessing the community, and structured learning meaning adapting lessons to each student’s learning styles and abilities. Some students are able to take classes outside of the SLC, while others take all of their classes in this classroom.
Students in the special education classroom have some form of a disability, most being on the autism spectrum. It is important to know that this is a wide spectrum with a variety of cases, and not every student will look the same or talk the same, or even learn the same. Each student is different and unique in their abilities. “It’s a great thing for people to be aware of, that it doesn’t mean the same thing. Same with any other disability, I think, but especially autism. That’s the big thing, is that it’s so wide and so vast,” Ron Snively said.
With such a wide variety of learning abilities, these classes require a unique approach to teaching. Snively says he teaches twenty-six classes in a school day, every day. “Not once do I give the same assignment to all five students in the class or all ten.” These classes have a very individualized learning setting. Kelly Heppner, the Special Education Department Chairwoman at ERHS, shared her perspective on adapting lesson plans to this variety of students. “If I have kids in front of me that are really kinesthetic and need to feel things and do projects and that sort of thing, then I need to come up with a way to bring the history lesson to life where they end up doing something productive with their hands”.
“You know, that’s so funny that you ask what my insight on my work is because I never wanted to go into this field of work!” said Heppner, laughing as she sat in her office, decorated with work from students in the special education classroom. Mrs. Heppner shared how something as simple as being involved in a study group to help dyslexic students started a passionate pursuit of a career she never imagined herself in.
Ron Snively and his in-class teaching assistants Jeanni Blakeney, Tammy Essary, and Tricia Mills, go beyond the walls of the classroom to help students learn as well. This includes anything from learning to cross streets, to going to grocery stores and learning who to ask for help to find something, to doing math lessons in Jitters and learning what a tip is and how to count money, to even going to see plays together or having lunch in the mall to learn how to interact in a social setting. Any opportunity to teach students to access the community is used!
The most important thing about this class to remember, however, is that they are as much of a part of the ERHS community as any other student. “I think one thing that I wish that everybody in the world would realize is that we have more in common and there’s more things similar than dissimilar.” says Heppner. Ron Snively talked a lot about their goal in making the students feel successful, but also equal and a part of the community around them. Amber Mauger, a senior at ERHS, shared her dream and goal is to become a dress designer when she grows up, and to her, “Eagle River High School means every day to have the best high school in all of Alaska.” Ian Beck, a freshman, shared that he would like to become a member of the military police when he graduates, and loves the staff and their helpfulness most about ERHS.
So how can you get involved? There are several options! Partners Club, which is a club where other students partner with students in the special education classroom and participate in special olympics activities, among other things, meets on Wednesdays at lunch in Mr. Snively’s classroom. You can also join the peers P.E. class, taught by Lisa Kelzenberg, or becoming a teacher’s aid for the class! It’s even as simple as going in to have lunch with students and playing games. “And if anyone is really interested in doing just about anything,” says Mrs. Heppner, “I bet if they come to me or Mr. Snively we can find them something else!”