The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 4, 2008


CCHS Pathways Program helps navigate the classroom, the job and life

A population of students with significant disabilities are having their multiple needs met in the Concord-Carlisle High School Pathways program, explained Director of Student Services Jessica Murphy at the March 25 meeting of the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC).


CCHS Special Education Chair Tom Keane (on right) watches while CCHS student James “JB” Brendan gives a presentation on the Pathways program at the RSC meeting on March 25. (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)

Murphy introduced Tom Keane, chair of the Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) Special Education Department, and lead teacher in the Pathways program. Pathways students meet in their own classroom, usually for the first and last period of the day, where they receive individualized assistance, including social skills, prevocational skill training, specialized tutorial support and close individualized program coordination.Keane said the approximately eight students in the Pathways program “are mainstreamed for some or all of their day.” Students who in the past required these services might have been sent out of the district.

Older Pathways students, ages 18 to 22, participate in a transitional program which assists them with vocational preparation and life skills.

“Keeping autism at bay”

Keane introduced CCHS student James “JB” Brendan, who is participating in the transitional portion of Pathways. Brendan shared his PowerPoint presentation on his experiences in the Pathway’s program as a student with autism. His presentation was titled “Keeping My Autism at Bay, a short presentation of my years at CCHS.” He has given his talk at a variety of schools including Boston University.

Brendan also speaks to CCHS Freshman English classes to acquaint them with autism as they read the book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, a mystery featuring a 15-year-old boy who has autism.

Keane noted that Brendan speaks seven languages, is an avid reader and currently has a job at the Lincoln Library.“The library is the perfect place for JB because books are his passion,” added Keane.

“Because of all my school experiences, I am looking at a future with vast opportunities,” concluded Brendan in his presentation.

In a later phone conversation, Keane explained some of the supports students with autism receive while taking general education classes. “We look at the environment,” he said. If, for example, the fluorescent lights are uncomfortable, a student may be allowed to wear a cap to cut the glare. Students may carry a “stress ball,” a soft ball that can be squeezed to release tension. “Some students respond to having gum or candy” to relieve stress, he added.

Student mentors are part of the teaching team

Student mentors play an important role in the program, Keane said. Regular education students receive volunteer hours for mentoring students in the Pathways program. “It’s a great addition to the high school,” Keane said, and allows students “to be with their typical peers.”

The teaching team in the Pathways program includes a lead teacher, a social worker, a special educator, and tutors as well as support in speech and language. Keane said each student’s experience is “very individualized” according to the student’s need. “The approach is holistic,” he added, and can include “a collection of medical, vocational, and academic professionals.”

While the Pathways program does not work for every special need, “the overall trend in out-of-district placement is going down,” said Murphy.

Transitional facilities sought

The presentation led to a discussion of the need for additional life skills facilities. “There are limitations in our facilities.” Life skills include vocational preparation (how to hold a job), and independent living skills such as cooking, laundry, using money and grocery shopping.

According to the Federal Department of Education, schools must ensure “that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living.” The transitional portion requires secondary schools to provide post-graduation vocational and life skills education.

CCHS has an agreement with the Lincoln-Sudbury school system, Keane said, which allows students to take advantage of the woodshop program. The transitional facilities at Acton/Boxborough are well-equipped, he said, noting CCHS has a need for a full kitchen and laundry equipment to enhance the life skills education.

“The school has been tremendous to us,” Keane noted, in purchasing a van to provide work transportation for students in the transition program. “My dream,” Keane said, “is to create an independent living facility, a Pathways house, for the 18 to 22 population.” He would like to see a partnership with other school districts such as Acton-Boxborough, Lincoln-Sudbury and with Minuteman Arc, which would jointly operate a post-high school transitional living facility.

Program praised

“As we all sit around and wring our hands on how to pay for rising education costs,” said RSC member Mike Fitzgerald, “Pathways has done a phenomenal job. We as a community owe the Pathways program a great deal for the work you folks have undertaken.”

“It’s our job,” replied Murphy. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito