Park City Education Foundation builds its special education funding
Every week, students at Treasure Mountain Junior High show up to work. They take the teachers’ orders, make coffee and serve the drinks from a coffee cart in their work uniforms.
Cierra Fitz, a special education teacher at the school, said the students with special needs learn a variety of skills from the coffee cart program, such as responsibility and how to work as a team. Treasure Mountain is one of four schools in the Park City School District that gives special education students the opportunity to make and sell coffee for teachers, and one of several schools that utilize Park City Education Foundation grants to make a difference in the lives of students with special needs. Jen Billow, associate director of communications and development for the foundation, said the organization funds numerous programs in the district, and it seems that the theme of those programs increasingly focuses on special education.
The Stir Crazy Coffee Cart for Special Ed at Trailside Elementary School, which inspired the other coffee carts in the district, is in its third year, as is a grant that provides funding for instruction and services from the National Ability Center for students in Park City High School’s special education department.
But there are several other programs, including Fitz’s coffee cart, that are fairly new.
For example, the foundation gave $8,000 this year to the Park City High School art department to host a small-group therapy program that utilizes art. And Segunda Taza de Café at Ecker Hill Middle School, a group that provides an opportunity for Latino parents to voice concerns about the school and receive information, recently piloted a Latino special education parent program to help parents know the best way to help their students in school and at home.
Suzanne Sheridan, a special education teacher at McPolin Elementary School, received $500 last year to pay for the implementation of the n2y unique learning system.
The learning system is an online curriculum that helps prepare students with significant cognitive disabilities to meet the core standards. Sheridan said curriculum is typically written for the general student population, but the unique learning system provides teachers with lesson plans and resources crafted for students who learn differently.
“It’s hard to plan (lessons), because you may have five students in your class with significant disabilities and very different ranges,” she said.
Sheridan said she has seen the students’ skills improve, as well as her own ability to juggle multiple students with varying learning styles.
Vanessa Jobe, who started the coffee cart at Trailside, said she saw a large shift in students’ demeanor when she introduced the program. After gaining experience interacting with others through the coffee cart program, students were able to look teachers in the eye and speak up in class.
Plus, she said, the coffee cart provided an opportunity for students with special needs to interact more with their peers and teachers in the school. Fitz said the coffee cart gives students something to be proud of.
Jobe said the grants from the foundation push teachers to think outside of the box and find unique ways to improve the classroom.
“I think it really allows you to continuously grow as an educator when you have access to things like this for your students,” Jobe said.
Kara Cody, programs director of the foundation, said funding for special education is growing because the organization’s teacher grants, which typically aid one classroom, are evolving into larger school-wide grants.
“Teachers have seen success with those funds and either want to replicate or come up with new programming as well,” Cody said.
The coffee cart is one of those programs that has expanded to other schools and changed to meet the students’ needs. At Ecker Hill Middle School, Dan Gallery adopted the coffee cart and added to it. Along with serving coffee, his students practice math skills through an imitation grocery store and using prepaid debit cards to purchase classroom supplies.
Cody said hearing about the success stories for students in special education encourages them to keep giving to programs to help those kids.
“We want to make sure our funds reach every single child in the district, and this is just a way to make sure that students’ needs are being met, whether they are a gifted student or a special ed student,” she said. “We want all students to achieve success.”
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