Eastside Catholic special-ed program helping students
May 3, 2014
New: May 3, 10:14 a.m.
Eastside Catholic School senior Shawn Smith is a model student: He plays defensive line for the Crusaders’ football team, is the baseball team’s student manager, and has plans to attend Bellevue College next year.
Smith is also a high-functioning autistic, and he needs help to succeed in some subject areas.
As one of eight students in the Sammamish private school’s Options program, Smith spends time each day with fellow student Brock Martin, who serves as Smith’s peer tutor in career education.
There are 39 students who are currently enrolled as tutors for Options, which is one of the few integrated, private-school special-education programs in the country, school officials said.
Smith said he enjoys spending time with Martin.
“He’s really good in math, and we like talking to each other a lot, so that’s why he was my peer tutor last semester,” Smith said. “But then I wanted him to be my peer tutor again because we had a nice time chatting, and he was really helpful.”
The high tutor-to-student ratio allows for an extensive amount of individual attention, and academic progress has followed. Smith will earn a high-school diploma, and sophomore Michael Padilla seems well on his way to doing the same, said Options coordinator Patricia Welsh.
Students who don’t earn diplomas are awarded certificates for completing the Options program, and can then utilize transition education opportunities through public schools until age 21.
Welsh typically allocates a pair of Options tutors for each general education subject area, including math, science, literature, history, computers and theology. She tries to pair Options students with tutors who’ve already taken specific courses, and checks in weekly to see how the partnership is going.
“Rarely do I have issues,” Welsh said.
Some special-needs students like Smith need help in only one area; others, like Padilla, utilize more tutors.
This semester, Padilla is working with four peers – Nick Reasoner (math), Carter Gonzalez (physics), Emma Burnham (history) and Matt Keogh (English).
Padilla has ataxic cerebral palsy, a rare form of the disease that affects his motor skills.
But he battles through it – he plays basketball for Eastside Catholic’s Special Olympics team, which won a state championship in March.
“He’s a very good student cognitively, doesn’t have many issues, but socially, that’s where we work with him a lot,” Welsh said.
Math might be Padilla’s favorite subject, he said.
“Last year, I was in Algebra I and this year, I’m in geometry,” he said, “and I think geometry is a little bit easier just because I get more help this year.”
The tutors, who earn elective credits, are also positively impacted. Reagan McCauley, who began working with fellow senior Chris Miller this year, said she has previous experience as a tutor, and it wasn’t overly difficult adapting to a special-needs environment.
“It wasn’t a big surprise or anything, and it’s not like I didn’t really know how to handle it,” McCauley said. “But I got to know Chris, and it got easier as we went along.
“It’s kind of nice to get to talk to people and see how their day was … This was a priority class for me because I get to help people.”
Options also allows for after-school social time. The tutors are required to participate in activities, and this semester alone, Welsh said, there have been 14 sponsored events, including ping pong and badminton sessions, a trip to a Seattle Mariners game, and several group meals.
Last fall, Welsh said, the school held a senior cruise on Seattle’s Elliott Bay. Each of the four seniors in Options attended, dressed in tuxedos and bow ties or skirts and heels.
“Those kids couldn’t have been more included,” she noted. “It was like everybody in that class watched out for those kids and made sure they were having a good time.”