At Athlos schools, we strive to be responsive to students with special needs. Each child comes with unique requirements for learning, and we prioritize their needs through social intelligence, a Performance Character trait Athlos defines as navigating relationships and interactions with respect and confidence.
Every Special Need Is Considered
Jeana Bonner, a board member at Athlos Academy in Herriman, Utah and her husband, Wayne, have three daughters, Bryn, Kaelyn, and Jaymi. Kaelyn (center) was born with Down syndrome and attends a local school for children with special needs. Bryn (left), the youngest, attends Athlos Academy with her adopted oldest sister, Jaymi (right), who is also diagnosed with Down syndrome.
Though Kaelyn’s needs required extra attention at a separate school, Jeana and Wayne felt differently about their oldest daughter.
“We wanted her to be in a regular classroom more often,” said Bonner. “Our biggest challenge with Jaymi is that her social and adaptive skills are a lot higher than her academic skills. This makes it difficult for her at local school districts that test solely on academic skills and tend to place all children with special needs in one class where they don’t receive very much one-on-one attention.”
As Jaymi started at Athlos, finding the right fit was the first step to her success.
“We found a teacher that loves having Jaymi in her classroom and has expectations for her,” said Bonner. “She really keeps her on her toes and communicates with us if there’s an issue or when there is something we need to help her work on.”
Children Have Many Molds, None Are Boxes
Studies show that there are a variety of ways to learn, a concept Athlos schools often consider and apply. Students are unique individuals with diverse backgrounds, and though some might have different needs like Jaymi, all students can learn and grow. If the student is growing, the student is succeeding.
“She’s doing well, she just needs more time than others,” said Bonner. “Athlos has been good about letting her go at her own pace. They have been great about getting her into physical education, or more of a combination of adaptive PE and regular PE. The teachers really do listen to us, whenever we have struggles we need to work through, we’ve been heard.”
At Athlos, we strive to embrace and honor diversity by providing all students the educational opportunities needed to grow, achieve, and be successful. Our staff members understand that a well-planned learning experience is attuned to different learners’ needs by incorporating different strategies for both struggling and advanced students.
Social Intelligence Unifies Us
As children learn about other students’ needs in a classroom setting, they start to recognize each other’s strengths and contributions. Including children with special needs also benefits students like Jaymi’s younger sister, Bryn, because they gain unique perspectives and become more aware of their interactions with others.
“When everyone has different needs, they learn patience, compassion, and other lessons I feel like I missed out on when I was growing up,” said Bonner. “I also wanted Bryn to be in an environment where she can learn those lessons and to help be a teacher for other children to recognize and be including of children with special needs.”
Classroom huddles allow students to get to know each other and understand one another’s needs, fostering a classroom community of trust and support.
“Whenever I go into the school, I’m always touched by all the friends and teachers who know who she is and greet her in the hallway,” said Bonner. “They are really receptive to her! I feel like it’s setting the whole school up to welcome children like her, and I think that makes society a better place when kids learn to incorporate children with special needs.”
“If they can’t learn the way we teach, we teach the way they learn.”
– O. Ivar Lovaas
Advice for Parents of Children with Special Needs
Families know their children best, so engaging parents in the learning process is essential to students’ success. Beyond simply communicating with families about what’s going on in the classroom and on the turf, Athlos strives to look for meaningful ways to involve families in the learning process, both in school and at home.
“Just go with what you feel is best,” said Bonner. “I have two children with special needs who are very different, and you need to see what may work best for the child and go for it. It can be scary and hard, but you need to remember that you can always change and make adjustments.”
“It also depends on what is important to you as a family. We felt like Jamie and her sister could go to school together,” said Bonner. “We wanted them both to see what they can offer. Everyone has opinions about things, but you should ultimately be the best judge of your child and what direction you can go with them.”