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Autism program benefits Queen of Angels students

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ST. FRANCIS DE SALES DEANERY — Queen of Angels Montessori School in Madison Place is committed to more than just providing a quality Catholic education.

In 2006 the school took education one step further and made the decision to accept students diagnosed with autism and to participate in the Ohio Autism Scholarship Program (ASP). Administered by the Ohio Department of Education, the program provides a scholarship of up $20,000 per academic year and allows families of students with autism to have a wider range opportunities to have their child’s needs met, explained Dan Teller, principal.

The scholarship gives the parents of a child with high-functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome the choice of sending him or her to a special education program other than one operated by their school district to receive the services outlined in the child’s individualized education plan (IEP). The students and families who take part in the ASP have the advantage of receiving the special education services they need through an intervention specialist who implements the goals and objectives of the IEP.

Matthew Blasch, a recent graduate of Queen of Angels Montessori who benefited from the Ohio Autism Scholarship Program, enjoys time on the bus with his classmates Kelsea Damico and Cassidy Deimling while on a school trip. (Courtesy photo)

Teller was introduced to the ASP through a parent, Barbara Blasch, whose  son, Matthew has Asperger’s. He embraced the program in keeping with Queen of Angels commitment to meet the students’ need and help them thrive. Blasch heard about the ASP from the psychologist at Milford South Elementary School, where Matthew had been  student since pre-school. Blasch and her family are members of St. Jerome Parish, and she had been exploring the option of sending Matthew a private school so he would experience the same Catholic education as his siblings, Daniel and Annie.

Blasch said when she approached Teller about becoming an ASP provider, “He was totally behind it. He was just wonderful about the school accepting Matthew.”

Her son spent three years at Queen of Angels, graduating in May. While there, Matthew was assisted by intervention specialist Jenny McGraw. Her son, who has always been mainstreamed into regular classes, “is gifted in math, but has problems that are similar to ADD,” explained Blasch. “He’s always been able to learn on grade level, but staying on task is difficult with for him and transitioning from one thing to the next is difficult. He talks and communicate, but needed help with his written language skills.”

Blasch is thrilled with her son’s experiences at Queen of Angel and spoke of how the ASP benefited him. “Matthew did well there,” she said. He always fell like he was learning the same things as Danny and Annie. He got to go to Mass once a week and take part in religion classes. He had more individualized instruction than he would have at a public school.”

Because no area Catholic secondary schools currently accept the scholarship, Matthew will attend Milford High School as a freshman in the fall, Blasch said.

Teller is also pleased with the success of the program. “The impact is that the children are able to be in a normal school environment and are able to succeed with the help of the intervention specialist. The specialist serves the classroom, but the other children don’t recognize the specialist is there for one specific child,” he explained. “The nice thing is that the child isn’t singled out as being special needs.”

Mary Rieke, a Queen of Angels parent and part-time assistant teacher in one of the upper-elementary classrooms, believes the ASP is complimentary to the school’s mission.

“I feel very strongly that one of the greatest assets at QAMS is that our children are allowed to be themselves without fear of ridicule or embarrassment from others,” she said. “This goes for special children who naturally behave differently as well as children who just need to be children and not grow up as fast as society (and, frequently, schools) force children to grow up. There is something about the environment QAMS creates, the Montessori method and the teachers that allows the children to be themselves — whoever that self might be.”

There were three students in the ASP last year and Teller estimates four will be enrolled during the upcoming academic year. He said the school is hoping to increase enrollment in the program.

“We would love to continue this wonderful program at Queen of Angels as it has had such a positive impact for the community,” he said. “We are always looking for more students for the ASP when middle school students graduate each year. We need to get the word out to parents of students with high-functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome about the services here that could greatly improve their son or daughter’s education experience.”

For more information about Queen of Angels Montessori School and its autism services, call 513-271-4171. Information about the Ohio Autism Scholarship can be found through the Ohio Department of Education’s website at www.ode.state.oh.us.

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