A Brighter Future for Students with Learning Differences –
In the heart of Price Hill lies St. Lawrence Elementary School, a safe and inclusive Catholic school serving students in Cincinnati’s inner-city. It’s the kind of school every parent would like for their child to attend. When you step through its doors, you’re immediately welcomed into a warm, friendly environment, where colorful student artwork adorns the walls.
But the transformation happening here runs deeper than what meets the eye. This transformation is not only reshaping the lives of students; it’s a testament to the power of collaborative partnerships. This year, St. Lawrence introduced OptimALL, an intervention program which brings crucial educational support to students with diverse learning needs. This transformative program is made possible by generous donations to CISE-SGO (Scholarship Granting Organization).
Iker, a first grader living with autism, faced an uncertain educational future due to complex state regulations surrounding scholarships for children with special educational needs. Like many, his parents struggled to balance the specialized support Iker required and financial constraints. Principal Jen Long was concerned that St. Lawrence might lose this family due to their struggles to meet Iker’s needs. She recalls the moment, saying, “His parents were looking at us, saying, ‘Please help our child,’ and they didn’t know what to do.” Complicating the matter further, Iker’s parents do not speak English, so at another school they may not receive the Spanish language support that St. Lawrence offers.
“For us to now be able to support this family is just awesome,” says Mrs. Long. “There have been children in the past whose needs were too great, and we had to find other placements for them. The fact that we’ve been able to keep those kids now is pretty fantastic.” This not only benefits the students but also their families, highlighting the advantages of being part of a tight-knit school community.
Bridget Bandusky attests to the positive changes she’s seen in her 4th-grade classroom this year, saying, “I’ve been here for four years, and it’s a night-and-day difference from what we’ve had before. There’s a lot more care put into making sure everyone is getting what they need.” Bridget’s class has an intervention specialist come in for math once a week, pulling out the students with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) for small group direct instruction where they target the skills that the students are missing. This intervention has not only boosted academic confidence but has also empowered students to take ownership of their work. Bridget takes pride in the transformation she’s witnessed: “I’ve already seen kids who were struggling learners now getting A’s and B’s on their tests. It’s great for them to realize, ‘Oh wow, I can do this!'”
With OptimALL’s support, students can stay on task more effectively and benefit from additional assistance, ensuring that no one falls behind. Principal Long underscores the importance of small-group learning, stating, “Anytime you put kids in small groups, they learn so much faster.”
Trelynn is a St. Lawrence student who receives intervention support, and describes the help she’s receiving this way: “She works with me and helps me with my math and reading. She helps me understand my work better, and it isn’t too fast for me.”
OptimALL intervention specialist, Shannon Buckner, is a vital part of the classroom, working on math and behavioral goals alongside the students. She also collaborates with teachers to communicate the students’ needs and develop strategies for better interactions. For Shannon, this work is deeply personal: “Part of why I wanted to become an intervention specialist was because I struggled in school so much. When I found out that there were teachers to support students who struggle, I decided that’s what I wanted to do. That student was me.”
Jason, a kindergartener who attends St. Lawrence with his two sisters, would not be able to attend St. Lawrence without access to this intervention program. His teacher, Katie Noschang, shares the progress Jason has made since the introduction of the program, “Mary comes and sits with Jason, who has some behavioral struggles. She helps him settle down and focus, she assists him in whatever way he needs so that he can learn.” The impact of this support is not limited to Jason alone; it extends to the entire classroom, creating a more harmonious environment where every child receives the assistance they need to thrive.
OptimALL’s dedication to meeting students where they are, and tailoring support to individual needs, is making a significant impact at St. Lawrence. Generously funded by CISE-SGO scholarships, this program ensures every child, regardless of learning challenges, can thrive. It showcases the impact of collaboration, support, and dedicated educators shaping a brighter future for St. Lawrence students.