WEST SENECA, N.Y. (WKBW) — Students in Western New York have been back in the classroom for about a month.
One district is working to change the stigma surrounding “special ed”.
7 News’ Pheben Kassahun takes us inside West Seneca Elementary School, which is highlighting the gifts and talents of some of its students so that they are not overlooked.
Special education takes on a different meaning within the walls of this elementary school.
“Using hands-on learning, community service, community outreach, taking them out into the community, making the curriculum really accessible to them and really bringing the curriculum alive,” West Elementary School special education teacher, Taryn Nicosia said.
It is a “gifted and talented” approach, making them feel excited and empowered to learn.
West Elementary School Special education teacher, Amanda Steltermann said, “Our job as educators is to make sure that they feel loved, they feel safe and that they feel just like the rest of their peers who are in a bigger classroom.”
The self-contained classroom uses an 8-2-1 method.
Eight students total where 2 students are assigned to 1 teacher.
Steltermann said, “When the kids come in, they are a second grader or a third grader in my classroom. I get to tell them they kind of have a special opportunity that they get three teachers in the classroom and not just one. We have that opportunity to work with each of them.”
Each classroom has about three teachers.
“We really want our students to feel like the brilliant children that they are and really let their strengths shine and really lean into their natural strengths and abilities. When students feel like brilliant little people, they can often surprise us and take their learning in a whole new journey and directions that we never even planned on,” Nicosia added.
Collectively, these three teachers have 47 years of teaching experience.
Kassahun walked into Heather Bertini’s special ed classroom as they talked about bees.
The following day, they were expected to write an opinion piece about the decline of the bee population.
“We have a new benchmark reading program and it integrates some science program and some current events. It kind of bridges the gap with reading because of all of the technical vocab and things that we see in every day life. It’s a lot more approachable for struggling readers but you can also take it up for the higher ones too,” Bertini added.
It is something she said is a way for her to pay it forward having had a positive experience with her teachers in grade school.
“When I was a kid, I had some teachers that really had a big influence on my life. It just made learning so much more exciting. I couldn’t wait to get to school every day, I couldn’t wait to get to school every day. I had a great rapport with them. I thought that that made all the difference because I was a struggling learner. I couldn’t read as quickly as the others,” Bertini explained.