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NEW FAIRFIELD – After much discussion and monumental schedule changes, special needs-focused adaptive specials–such as physical education, music, art–have been incorporated into the days at MHHS. “This has been years in the making,” says principal James Mandracchia, who worked with a team of colleagues to reconfigure the specials into a 6-day rotation, allowing for a smooth incorporation of the classes.

In classes of 4 to 5 students at a time, the specials-area instructors are able to fine-tune the curriculum to suit the individual needs of the students. Mandracchia explained that, “The classes are available to any learners who could benefit from extended learning time that will help them succeed in the mainstream class.”

Ditching dodgeball and other movement games that are popular in their mainstream class rotation, teachers Jack Hudak and Casey Aiezza are now able to work in time with parachutes and games that focus on color matching and sorting. Where Health instructor, DeAnna Aurio, may be teaching about anatomy and the skeletal system in her mainstream courses, she would have her adaptive special students cut and paste skeletons to introduce the topic and make it more approachable.

In just over a month since the start of school, the faculty has seen a difference. Library media specialist, Patrick Egan, says of the adaptive specials students, “They always seem brighter and happier and come in more confident.” That confidence is reportedly “carrying over to all of their classes,” says assistant principal, Allyson Story. And in most cases, the student’s paraprofessional is assisting in the adaptive specials courses and reinforces the benefits throughout the day.

All the while the students are benefitting, so are the faculty members. Music instructor, Kelly Burger, said “Adaptive is my favorite special, the chance to allow students to feel comfortable enough to open up and be themselves warms my heart.” Emily Mancini, art teacher, has been happy to modify the curriculum to suit the students allowing them to, “apply their individual skills and creative expression in art.” In addition to having specialized time with the students, the instructors are also enjoying “getting to see their individualized personalities, their enjoyment of this time, succeeding more often,” according to Mandracchia.

Students who are identified as benefitting from the adaptive specials have these classes added to their schedule in addition to their mainstream version of the specials class, allowing them to engage with the special instructors and curriculum in both settings. Aiezza explained that, “one of the most helpful parts of the specialized class has been learning their motivations.” More focused time with each student in the smaller groups, has helped the instructors to better engage them during mainstream sessions.

Story explained that, “Our administration really made this happen in arranging our schedules to allow for this time and not have it take away from other classes or students.” An added benefit is that the teams overall are appreciating the 6-day specials modified schedule.

Mandracchia went on to say, “We’re doing this for our kids,” and he says of the future, “we’re hoping to keep it, as long as there is a need for it.”

By Sarah Opdahl