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Director of Special Education Nick Shockney talks importance of inclusion, school communities for special needs students

Director of Special Education Nick Shockney
Director of Special Education Nick Shockney

Last week, Carroll County Public Schools held Camp Winfield, an event for special needs students, as well as the school system's special needs prom.

Both events are examples of the work CCPS Director of Special Education Nick Shockney and those in his department do in an effort to help students who learn differently.

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This is Shockney's second year as the director. Prior to that, he was an elementary school principal.

For a few hours Friday, Winfield Elementary School was transformed into Camp Winfield, an event for special needs students. The camping-themed day was for students who have communication, sensory and physical needs.

"As the director, I am proud to be part of an outstanding team of over 900 (contracted and hourly) professionals countywide that support students with disabilities," Shockney said. "This team of teachers, instructional assistants, related service providers and support staff works hard to ensure the success of our students. We believe in seamless high-quality instruction, student advocacy, school support and family engagement."

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The Carroll County Times caught up with Shockney to talk about the role his department plays.

Q: What is the role of the department you oversee? What type of students does it help? Can you explain the different services offered?

A: Our department supports students with disabilities from birth through age 21 that receive special education services. Students receive services and supports as identified in their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). These services can include specially designed instruction in the areas of academics, speech-language, occupational therapy, physical therapy, adapted physical education, vision, hearing, assistive technology and social/emotional/behavioral just to name a few. These services are individualized for each student based on their needs.

Q: What types of events does CCPS try to do for the special needs community? Why are these types of events so important for the students?

A: CCPS values inclusion. Every student we support has a wide range of strengths and interests. We work hard to help our students build the skills needed to participate in all of the special events at their schools and in the community and to reduce barriers as much as possible. Some students require special supports, accommodations, and modifications to participate in extracurricular activities. Other students need these special events to be modified to meet their needs. The Learning for Independence (LFI) Prom is a great example of this. The prom is offered during the day with the support of school staff. Special transportation is provided so all students can attend. Non-disabled peers attend the prom through the Best Buddies Program and other student support groups. While students can also attend the prom at their school, this is just an opportunity for some to participate in a fun event with the supports needed for the students to enjoy. CCPS offers a Transition Fair bi-annually that offers information sessions for students with disabilities (both IEP and 504 Plans) and informational sessions for parents. These informational sessions include topics such as the transition to college, self-advocacy skills, and accessing supports available through adult agencies. The Transition Fair provides parents and students with the information that they need in order to effectively navigate the transition from the public school system to either college or the world of work. In addition, CCPS works collaboratively with the Westminster Fallfest committee to provide a special day for our students with disabilities and families to enjoy the day in a less stressful environment.

Carroll County Public Schools held its fifth annual Learning For Independence Prom for special needs students in the Century High School gym on Friday. The event originated at Liberty High School and was first held in a classroom, according to a news release from the school system.

Q: What types of programs are there for non-special needs students to pair with special needs students? Why are those so important for the kids?

A: CCPS has many programs that pair students with and without disabilities. We offer a Corollary Athletic Program where all high school students, with and without disabilities, have an opportunity to participate on competitive sports teams together. One of the goals of this program is that students come to appreciate the value of each other as individuals which helps foster a greater understanding, respect, and acceptance of individuals with disabilities. The Corollary Athletic Program offers a fall (bocce), winter (bowling) and spring (corn toss) sport and culminates with a county championship. At the middle school and high school levels, Best Buddies operates as student-run friendship clubs, which create buddy pairs between students with and without disabilities to create an inclusive school climate for students and a community culture of acceptance. At the high schools, students with disabilities participate in Inclusion Day annually. At Inclusion Day, students participate in a variety of physical activities with the support of individuals without disabilities. In addition, students with disabilities in all grade levels can participate annually in Special Olympics, as well as the Tournament of Champions where students participate in events and are supported by individuals without disabilities.

Q: What does CCPS do to work on inclusion/acceptance of these students?

A: All of our students are members of our school communities. We can all learn from each other and our differences should be recognized and celebrated. Students with disabilities have tremendous strengths and have lots to offer. CCPS actively engages our community and our partners to support our students with disabilities. This spring, Camp Winfield planned an inclusive opportunity for students Prekindergarten through [first grade] that focused on STEM instruction and communication skills in a natural environment.

Q: In what way does CCPS differ with its special needs programs compared to other jurisdictions? What sets the system apart?

A: CCPS cares about all students. We focus on the individual student and their needs and work hard to ensure our students have success academically, socially, behaviorally and vocationally. There is a tremendous focus on providing supports to teachers and related service providers through professional development to assist them in delivering high-quality instruction to all learners. CCPS has developed a Post-Secondary Education Program that provide students with disabilities who are working toward a Certificate of Program Completion an opportunity to further develop their vocational, social, and academic needs prior to them exiting the school system at the age of 21. The Post-Secondary Education Program is for students who have completed 4 years at their comprehensive high school. The students are taught functional academic skills, daily living skills, self-advocacy and vocational skills that will prepare them to continue to be productive members of our community. Students are provided opportunities to work in group work environments as well as individual work environments. These programs include partnerships with local business and educational establishments.

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

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A: Communicative competence is paramount for our students. Our speech-language pathologists and teachers support all students with complex communication needs so that they will develop communicative competency. We work to ensure that each student has the skills for effectively and efficiently communicating with their families, peers and teachers. It is essential for students to be able to express their needs and wants, develop social connections, build relationships and have the ability to share and gather information. Our mission is for autonomous communication for our students. They need to be able to say what they want to say, to whomever they want to say it to, whenever they want to say it, and with their own words.

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