Giving Disabled Kids Hope

PPCD prepares preschoolers for kindergarten

By Pamela Bond

Victoria Advocate

Nov. 11, 2007

Five-year-old Caleb could barely lift a spoon to eat, and hardly ever spoke, when he moved to Victoria three years ago. Now, he’s getting ready for kindergarten, a change his mother, Wendy Hughes, attributes to the Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities.

“There’s just amazing things happening in PPCD and I just can’t believe that when I tell people my son’s in PPCD, they have no idea what it is,” said Hughes, a registered respiratory therapist at Warm Springs.

The Victoria school district program serves 96 children ages 3 to 5 in 10 classes. The children have differing disabilities, from occupational to speech to motor impediments. Caleb, for example, has Asperger’s syndrome, a higher functioning form of autism.

The main goal is to get them ready for the next step, which is either kindergarten or a life skills class,” said Lori Dearman, Chandler School’s PPCD teacher. “We are catching them up in all the areas, not just academics but social skills and self-care. We want them to be successful and eventually independent as adults so we give them a foundation to build upon.”

Rhonda Brzozowske has a story similar to Caleb’s with her 6-year-old daughter Abby, who has verbal apraxia and has been in the program for three years. When she started, Abby knew five different single-syllable sounds.

“Just now we are working on two- to three-word sentences,” Brzozowske said. “Language is a huge part of PPCD. She also couldn’t hold a crayon because she didn’t have those fine motor skills. Now she is drawing and cutting.”

Children must qualify for the program through a test conducted by the district’s Child Find Assessment Office, said special education coordinator Cheryl Roitsch. Tests are available throughout the school year and those who qualify can enroll their children for a full or half
day at the closest campus.

The program works with children in different areas, such as speech or physical therapy, depending on individual needs. Many campuses also include the program’s children in activities with “regular” day care or kindergarten classes.

“The teachers treat them like they’re normal kids; they don’t look at their weaknesses, their disabilities,” Hughes said. “They look at their abilities, what they can do. And they try to take those things and adapt them, and modify them, to teach these kids how to function and how to live in what the rest of us call normal society.”

Roitsch said that early detection and enrollment in the program makes a difference in a child’s school career.

“What we’ve seen is the transition is a lot easier for them, and teachers have said that the children that have been in the PPCD separate easier from their parents,” Roitsch said. “They don’t cry as much, they’re easier to get acclimated. What we’ve seen the most in is a growth in social skills and language.”

Once a child grows out of the program, usually at age 6, they may go on to a general kindergarten class or self-contained life skills class, depending on each child’s needs.

“Anybody that says they’re just finger painting and drawing and babysitting these special needs kids, I would challenge them to go and sit in that classroom and then come and tell me that they’re not learning anything,” Hughes said. “Because it’s not true. They are learning just as much as any other child in VISD is. And probably even more so because they have greater challenges to overcome.”

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