by Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
Did you know that March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month? This observance is part of a national effort to raise awareness about the inclusion of those with developmental disabilities in all facets of community life as well as awareness of the challenges they may face.
Developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. These conditions, which begin during the developmental period and usually last throughout an individual’s lifetime, may impact day-to-day living.
These disabilities occur along all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. In fact, recent estimates show that about one in six children aged 3 through 17 years in the U.S. have one or more developmental disabilities, such as: ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, hearing loss, intellectual disability, learning disability, vision impairment and other developmental delays.
When BOCES, like Questar III, were originally created more than 60 years ago – they were designed to build capacity for local school districts to provide programs and services that otherwise would not be cost effective. At the same time, special education programs and services were created to support students with developmental and other disabilities. Our programs provide equity and opportunity in education – where students have access to the same high-quality educational programs regardless of their zip code or ability.
Today, Questar III continues to provide a comprehensive array of special education programming and services to more than 300 students in Columbia, Greene, and Rensselaer county schools. Students, ages 5 through 21, are placed in programs according to their individual academic and social/behavioral needs. Programs are located in various types of academic settings including Career and Technical Education (CTE) centers, school district-based classrooms, and a community arts center – always seeking to integrate learners.
Each of our programs provide students with an individualized program of instruction that makes use of curricula adapted to meet their needs. Learning is enriched by interactive community-based experiences and through related supports in speech, occupational and physical therapy.
In recent years, we have responded to an increasing number of learners with autism. According to the CDC, about 1 in 54 children are identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – a significant increase from previous government reports. We are also addressing greater mental health needs, including challenges related to the pandemic.
Locally, Questar III is responding to these urgent regional health and educational needs through smaller class sizes with specialized psychologist and social work support. Questar III also assists families by connecting them to community resources.
Questar III continues to focus on early intervention, prevention, and providing students with the tailored academic and social emotional supports. Individual attention is especially critical in learning environments where skill levels and abilities can widely vary within the same classroom.
We continue to prepare students for life outside of and beyond high school. This means providing career planning, job coaching or service-learning experiences in the community.
While these service-learning experiences are more limited this year due to COVID-19, these community connections remain an invaluable learning experience for our students. Some of the service learning projects have benefitted local nursing homes, hospital first responders, churches, and food pantries.
Students also participate in work-based learning and CDOS (career development occupational studies) classes. These opportunities cement the essential skills they’ll need to become successful when they transition into the workforce and independent living.
Work-based learning offers students with supervised, school-coordinated activities that allow them to achieve employment-related competencies in a workplace environment. Over the past three years, our students have accumulated nearly 4,500 hours of work-based learning/paid employment with 48 business partners. CDOS students also learn how to apply and interview for a job, live on their own, manage money and explore careers and the community through field trips and guest speakers.
Our programs integrate resources such as the Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES) labs that allow students to learn and practice activities of daily living and prepare them to integrate into the community setting during their high school years.
I am so pleased of the opportunities that our school districts and partners provide to our students – and hope more people and businesses will embrace accessibility and inclusion for those with developmental and other disabilities. Please visit www.questar.org for more information on our programs or how to partner with our organization.
This column appeared in the March 10, 2021 edition of the Register Star and The Daily Mail newspapers.