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Preschool: Special needs students learn from peer models

Students in Ms. Keeney
Students in Ms. Keeney's preschool class sing a song while learning about shapes and creating a cartoon man out of those shapes.
— image credit: Kyra Low/The Mirror

At first glance, it seems like any other preschool class.

There are songs, dancing, coloring and 15 energetic kids.

There are four adults in the room helping the kids, and some of the kids need a bit more help than others.

This is Jessie Keenney's preschool class at Camelot Elementary. Like all preschool classes in the Federal Way School District, the class is half "peer model" students and half special education students.

This is the first year that the district has moved to a half and half model. So far, the year is off to a great start, Keeney said.

"I don't see the negative," Keeney said. "For many students, it's their home school (the school they will enroll in for kindergarten) and they learn all about it before kindergarten."

"They learn from each other," preschool program manager Julie Hunt said. "The peers model typical behavior for the delayed, and (the peer models) learn acceptance and diversity. They learn we're all people. We all learn differently."

The program

District-wide, there are 10 classrooms, each with a morning and an afternoon session.

Sessions are two hours and 45 minutes long and held Monday through Thursday. Students can enroll in either the morning or afternoon sessions, and parents must transport the students. Cost for the preschool is $190 a month for peer model students. Students with disabilities do not pay tuition, as they are covered by state laws to provide disability services.

Parents who think their child has a disability can have the child tested by the district.

"The main focus is social skills and our Washington state early learning and development benchmarks," Hunt said. "The goal is to have them ready to enter kindergarten."

Teachers in the preschool program are all special education certified, and many are dual certified in general education and special education.

"There's always challenges in any classroom," Keeney said.

Keeney does try and make sure any lessons in fine motor skills coincide with the days the occupational therapist is in the classroom.

Keeney said she also focuses on "front loading" the curriculum, using pictures and activities that help all the students learn.

"I am really excited to have double the kids," Keeney said. "Parents have been hearing about it and calling. The peer models are really helping. It's been a really good start (of the school year)."

Learn more

For more information about the disability program, call (253) 945-2093. For questions about the preschool program, contact Julie Hunt at (253) 945-4580.

Those interested in signing up for the program can contact their nearest school.

The preschool programs at the following elementary schools still have openings for the 2009-2010 school year:

• Camelot Elementary, (253) 945-2500 (Two a.m. sessions and two p.m. sessions)

• Meredith Hill Elementary, (253) 945-3200 (Two a.m. sessions and two p.m. sessions)

• Rainier View Elementary, (253) 945-3700 (One a.m. session and one p.m. session)

• Twin Lakes Elementary, (253) 945-4200 (Two a.m. sessions and two p.m. sessions)

• Wildwood Elementary, (253) 945-4400 (Two a.m. sessions and two p.m. sessions)

Enterprise Elementary classes are filled.

Spots can be filled throughout the year. The school district does not require that students be enrolled by the beginning of the school year.

Federal Way schools also provide Head Start and ECEAP preschool programs to families that meet the income eligibility requirements. For more information about Head Start and ECEAP, call (253) 945-2379.

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