Cooke Center for Learning & Development Celebrates 20 Year Anniversary
For parents of special needs students, navigating the quagmire of government and private services can be an enormous headache and legal nightmare. Through partnerships with schools, its own high school, staff development workshops and other services, The Cooke Center for Learning and Development strives to ensure that special needs students obtain the services they require. Now in its 20th year, the Center advocates programs that maximize the inclusion of special needs students as much as possible in schools and communities. Michael Termini, PsyD. director, discussed the Center’s goals and programs in an interview with Education Update.
“We work to provide inclusive opportunities, not full inclusion in classrooms,” said Termini. “Families who approach the Cooke Center have students who are on the cusp of needs. They’re not the classroom at the end of the hall that no one ever sees,” he said, explaining that while many students remain in special needs classrooms for part of their school day, they are mainstreamed in general education classes for art, music, lunch, gym, and perhaps other classes.
The Center has established partner schools that serve elementary and middle school students, serving more than 2,000 students, and opened its own high school, the Cooke Center Academy two years ago. “Being in a traditional high school proves more challenging for our students. The changing schedules, the size, and the overall atmosphere aren’t conducive for our students to succeed,” said Termini.
Designed to provide both academics and a transition curriculum, or “Transition to Life” the high school serves 75 students and emphasizes internships and life experiences to best prepare students for leaving the school structure. Students take about 35 to 40 trips a year, ranging from museums to grocery stores, to learn life skills. The high school program also requires a service hours, designed to teach students skills necessary for employment. A popular placement, noted Termini, is at Sports Illustrated magazine where students work at archiving and cataloguing materials.
Once students have completed high school, the Cooke Center assists families place students in appropriate living situations and counsels on how families can receive support from government agencies. The group home concept, popular for special needs adults, is being re-examined as these become more expensive to operate. Independent living in apartments is preferred. “The goal is always to have the least restrictive environment as possible,” said Termini.
Attitudes about the special needs population are changing, said Termini. “More and more educators are realizing the benefit that special needs students get from being included in general education classes, and the benefits general education students receive from having our students there,” he said. At Cooke 11 years, Termini recalls visiting a school and seeing a young girl with cerebral palsy struggle up a flight of stairs. Upon reaching the landing, the student, grinning, exclaimed, “Now I’m going to my classroom.” That moment he knew he was in the right place. “I felt privileged to be helping provide an education to kids who have to go through so much,” he said.#
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