Saratoga County

Summer offering helps kids keep skills

As many as 5,000 students just released from their regular school routine boarded buses this week to

As many as 5,000 students just released from their regular school routine boarded buses this week to town recreation sites, among them children with special needs who attend programs designed to bolster their academic and social skills.

A partnership with the Shenendehowa Central School District and the town recreation department offers about 150 children with disabilities a way to take part in typical summer activities such as sports, swimming and learning woodworking or how to dance. Launched eight years ago, the program was the first of its kind, and, according to organizers, was used as a model for other districts seeking to serve the special needs population in the summer.

Kathy Durivage is a teacher in the district during the academic year, but for 10 weeks while school is out, she becomes summer school principal for the Concepts and Skills in Motion program. The largest percentage of children enrolled have autism or Asberger’s Syndrome. Others have cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or physical limitations requiring the use of wheelchairs. Students of all ages take part in a wide array of all-day activities designed to enhance their academic and social skills.

“Our goal is to keep kids up to speed in the progress they made with all their hard work during the school year,” Durivage said.

To keep that flow going, there are 14 summer classrooms open at Shatekon Elementary and Shenendahowa High School East, each with one teacher and two or three aides, offering speech, occupational and physical therapy, math and reading and social skills. Two days a week during the program, in session June 30 to Aug. 8, the youths head out to many of the town recreation sites for old-fashioned summer camp activities.

“We’re always looking for ways to integrate special needs children with other children, because they all get so much from the experience,” Durivage said. “They select the classes they want to try out. They’re interested in everything from cooking to rocket-science workshops.”

Mike Smith, director of student services for the district said another benefit from the town and district partnership is bringing together staff members who represent different schools of thought.

“We’ve developed a very good working relationship with the town, and one of the best parts is the interaction between the young, enthusiastic camp counselors and our more seasoned teachers,” Smith said. “It’s an interesting dynamic that constantly evolves and personalizes the program each summer.”

Smith said before the Concepts and Skills in Motion program was offered, parents had few choices for places their children with physical or cognitive challenges could spend their summers.

“We want these kids to have access to their non-disabled peers rather than being continually spending time in a special education setting,” Smith said.

When they’re not heading out to camp programs, there’s a distinct focus on summer fun as the teachers break out of their serious mode and become silly.

“Each classroom has their own theme, like `under the sea,’” Smith said.

One teacher who specialized in coming up with different themes decided to try a cowboy atmosphere, he said. She lined up desks in a corral, brought in saddles and called the kids sheriffs.”

Smith said most teachers will incorporate an Olympics theme this summer.

Meanwhile, in the town recreation program, children this summer can try out archery, cheerleading, golf, theater, field hockey, crew, lacrosse, quilting, performing arts and creating their own comic books.

Although there are no formal tests done to track the progress of students in the program, organizers said watching the children all interact is its own reward.

Doreen Bazile is a social worker during the school year and camp director of the Collins Park site on Route 146 and Moe Road during the summer. Bazile said one of the joys of being with children during the relaxed days of summer is watching them gain broader awareness of the needs of others.

“We also have kids with medical needs, like diabetes, who may need certain treatments during the day, and it’s a teaching moment for everyone about being tolerant and accepting everyone just as they are,” Bazile said. “It warms your heart to see special needs children trying something new and succeeding, and also seeing other kids eager to help them out.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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