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.”

The 10,000 LB. Challenge

By Pamela Bond

Victoria Advocate

Oct. 29, 2007

Asking elementary and junior high students to walk 100 miles and lift 10,000 pounds each in one school year may seem like a challenge, but that’s the goal adapted P.E. teacher Susan Sherman has set for special education classes in Victoria school district.

“My son really enjoys it,” said Wendy Hughes of Victoria, whose son Caleb attends Chandler Elementary School. “They make it fun. I think it’s really helped with his gross motor skills.”

The “Courageous Pacers Program,” written by Corpus Christi physical therapist Tim Erson, includes students with severe disabilities to those who needed minimal assistance.

In Victoria, about 160 students at 12 schools participate in the program, which began this year and has already had great results, special education coordinator Cheryl Roitsch said.

“I’d say the special kids are more likely to be at risk for child obesity because they’re not going to go home and ride their bikes or play outside by themselves,” Sherman said.

“Like kids who are autistic, they are more likely to sit around and watch TV. By elementary, or in junior high, they tend to get heavier.”

Besides promoting fitness, the program can benefit academic skills by improving language and concentration, Sherman said.

“Our physical therapist wanted me to try it, and my supervisor, Cheryl (Roitsch), was really gung-ho about it,” Sherman said. “So I decided to do it for a month and either it works or it doesn’t, but either way I tried. Now when I go to the schools and I want to try other games, the kids ask to do the pacers. It just went so well that we kept doing it.”

To lift 10,000 pounds, each child holds a water-filled bottle that weighs one pound in each hand. (Smaller children have two half-pound bottles). Each repetition of lifting the bottles is equal to two pounds. The student completes 10 repetitions in five different exercises, which equals 100 pounds, and participates in that routine three times a week (300 pounds). Eventually, as the students build strength, the bottles will be filled with sand, making them weigh two pounds each.

The 100 miles are calculated in aerobic miles, meaning that 20 minutes of walking equals one mile. During the program, which classes use daily, students aim to walk three aerobic miles, or 60 minutes, each week. Student unable to walk complete a different aerobic activity for the time period, such as shooting basketballs.

“At the beginning, there was an autistic girl who didn’t even notice I was in the room,” Sherman said. “She was twirling around in her own little world. Now as soon as I come to class, she gets her water bottles and is ready to go.”