Grafton Without Walls

Jamie Stewart, in a previous blog post, highlighted how children with different disabilities are treated within our local behavioral health and education systems. This post in turn propelled me to reflect on the progress that we have made as educators in supporting children with disabilities.

As a nation, we have made huge strides in educating children with disabilities.  Although there is still work to be done, it is satisfying to know that we have made real progress.  The report, “Twenty-Five Years of Educating Children with Disabilities: The Good News and the Work Ahead,” notes:

Three decades ago, more than a million children with disabilities received no educational services at all. Untold numbers of students had disabilities that were never detected or were incorrectly diagnosed. Today, about 6.5 million children with disabilities have been identified and are receiving special education services.”

Thirty years ago, only 1 out of every 5 children with disabilities was educated in a regular school. Today, the overwhelming majority of children with disabilities—about 96%—learn in regular schools with non-disabled children, rather than in state institutions or separate facilities.”

On occasion, public school systems still find themselves in the position of having to look outside their resource pool to support children with the most significant challenges.  For many years, Grafton had been a place that local schools systems would turn to fill the gap.  In 2001-2002, Dr. Eleanor Smalley, then Superintendent for Clarke County Schools in Virginia, challenged public school administrators and Grafton administrators to create something different. A series of meetings yielded a shared operational plan and a Grafton classroom within Boyce Elementary school. The classroom provided education for students from Clarke County, Frederick County, and Winchester City who would have been traditionally referred to Grafton or who was at risk for being referred.

The Grafton/Boyce classroom was a huge success.  In fact, it was so successful that after a few years we were able to close the classroom as almost all the students were successfully returned to regular public school classrooms.  For several years, Grafton wanted to replicate this project in other localities, but resources, timing, and priorities just did not line up.

Then in the beginning of 2013, a partnership between Grafton and Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) was born.  JCPS was making more referrals to Grafton programs, and we were seeing students prepared to transition back to their home schools.  What was missing was a solid plan for ensuring that these transitions were successful. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to replicate the Grafton/Boyce classroom with JCPS and create an environment where children wouldn’t have to leave the public school in the first place?  That is exactly what has happened. Today, children with disabilities are integrated with other children in a Grafton/Jefferson classroom, and the transition to a regular classroom is much easier. Children don’t have to ride a bus for an hour or longer to an external placement like Grafton, and children and their families obtain all the privileges and activities of their public school. Grafton is proud of the partnership with JCPS and applauds their courage and innovation in creating solutions for the future.

Partnership

This partnership really is a win-win situation for all—the children, parents, JCPS and Grafton.  The establishment of this classroom within JCPS creates significant cost savings for the school system and drastically reduces Grafton’s overhead expenses.  More importantly, we are meeting our mission by increasing children’s functional autonomy, utilizing and strengthening natural family and community supports.

Looking back, Grafton can be proud of our work with local school systems and the progress we as a nation have made to improve the education of children with disabilities. So what is ahead? What steps can we take to ensure that children with disabilities receive the high quality education they need to prepare them for postsecondary education, jobs, and a meaningful life?  We at Grafton look forward to working with our school and community partners to develop the next generation of innovative approaches, so that 30 years from now we can continue to be proud of the progress we have made for all of our children.