Centers Prepare to Welcome Back Students

Centers Prepare to Welcome Back Students

August 22, 2002

The students at the Pulley Center, located with West Potomac High School, will get to do some traveling this year. The center specializes in teaching students with disabilities, ages 16 to 22, the life skills they will need to live independently and find work. Last year, the "on-the-job" training was done in a classroom. But this time around, the students will get some real work experience in offices and retail outlets.

"This year, we're trying to make the community our classroom," said John Thompson, employment and transition representative at Pulley. "We want their work experience to translate into the real world."

Like all of the special-education schools and centers in the Fairfax County Public Schools system, Pulley is preparing for first day back to school Sept. 3.

The school system has 23 special-education schools and centers across the county. Most of the centers are co-located in other schools, however, they have their own budgets.

Special-education services are provided to children with disabilities between the ages of 2 and 22 either at one of the centers, through home services or by referral to a private school when it is determined the school system can not met the child's needs. The services are offered to children who have autism, developmental delay, emotional disabilities, hearing impairment, mental retardation, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairments, specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairment, serve disability, traumatic brain injury and visual impairment.

"WE'RE CONNECTED to West Potomac. The students get their diplomas from West Potomac and come to us for career education," Thompson said.

The students learn things such as filling out applications, dressing for job interviews, various work-related skills, and how to interact with bosses and fellow employees.

"Our goal to is to prepare our students to be productive members of society," Thompson said.

The center is set up to serve between 80 to 90 students of which a majority are full-time students. The part-time students continue to attend academic classes at West Potomac while also attending the center for career training. In some cases, the students only attend the center part-time, because they simply can't handle a full-day.

Pulley does not have a PTA, but does offer some student activities such as dances and picnics. Back-to-school night is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m.

WILLIAM FILES, principal at Quander Road Center, is expecting 105 to 110 students with emotional disabilities to begin school at the center, which is one of three non-co-located facilities serving high-school level students in the school system.

"We're like a mini high school," Files said. "We have a regular seven-period day and the students take whatever classes they need academically to earn a standard diploma."

Unlike the average high school, the center has two psychologists and a social worker on staff to provide the students the added support they might need. The average student-to-teacher ratio is 8-to-1.

It also does not have an organized PTA, extra-curricular activities or sports teams outside of a basketball team that plays other smaller schools.

The center also does not hand out diplomas. The students return to their base school whenever possible. But even if they do not, the student receives a diploma from the base school.

"I had a student graduate this year with a Robinson diploma that never stepped foot in Robinson," Files said.

The students also have the option to take part in their base school's extra-curricular activities such as athletics and drama, as long as they are academically eligible to do so.

"We tell our students, when you do well you have choices," Files said. "We try to push our students to be flexible."

Quander Road will hold its back-to-school night Tuesday, Sept. 17, beginning at 7 p.m.

THE MOUNT VERNON CENTER is co-located at Mount Vernon High School. The center also serves students with emotional disabilities and have the option to take courses in the center or general-education setting. Like the other centers there is a clinical staff to provide students additional support.

The center's back-to-school night will be held jointly with the high school Monday, Sept. 23, at 6:30 p.m.