By KEVIN ELZE
This year at the CES Symposium, officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be focusing on applying the principles taught in the religious education program to the individual student, especially those with special needs.
One of the strengths of the Church Education System’s Special Education Inservice Program is to cater the teaching to the individual’s needs by training part-time teachers to teach special education seminaries. These “special needs” seminary programs, which began around 1985, teach students that have learning disabilities. This program has been implemented throughout Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Colorado.
Most of the part-time teachers are BYU students, but according to Fred Oliver, coordinator of the program, there are “teachers involved in the program that are not BYU students, although most of them are pounding their way through school.”
Unlike other seminary programs, the church doesn’t have a standard set of lesson plans that have been prepared for this program.
“We write our own lesson plans according to the students’ needs and abilities,” said Bernadette Lowell, one of the assistant principals in the program.
One of the main strengths of the program is the smaller class size which helps the student apply the principles taught.
Brian Michaelis, a special education seminary teacher and senior at BYU from West Jordan, Utah, said, “We try to apply the gospel to them more personally because they can have a harder time applying it to their own needs. We take a lesson plan and see how it applies to each individual student and try to tailor our lessons to the student.”
The program also encourages the teacher to do home visits with each of the students to better understand each student’s specific situation.
“We go and individually visit each student to get to know their circumstances and how we can better fulfill their needs — both spiritually and temporarily,” said Shandi Haymore, a part-time teacher in the program who is also a BYU student.
These home visits are done to help the student feel comfortable in the classroom. Another advantage to the home visits is to assist the student’s family and church leaders to know how to better teach religious principles to the student.
Other than the part-time teachers, Church Service Missionaries are involved in the teaching process of the special education seminary program.
Also, others that are known as “seminary friends” are brought into the classroom to aid the special education students. These “seminary friends” are usually mainstream students and come in for a couple weeks to assist the teacher in working one-on-one with the student.
“This is definitely a way that all students can gain from the strengths from each other. The special ed students may not have the same intellectual ability that the regular students have but the regular students gain from the extra spirituality that the special ed students may possess,” said Jeff Brown, a part-time teacher in the program.
According to Oliver, an important part of bringing the “seminary friends” into the classroom is that it gives the special education student the opportunity to meet new people and gain new friends.
“Some of these students who are … brighter (but still in the special education programs) tend to know that they don’t fit into the world and tend to be very aware that they don’t have the abilities that their peers may have. So when somebody befriends them, it meets one of the greatest needs that they have to be accepted and to be loved and then to be encouraged to share what they have with others,” Oliver said.
Stephan Cincotta, a special education seminary teacher at Lehi High School, said that some of the more “rowdy kids” that come in to the classroom as “seminary friends” act drastically different than they do when they are in their regular seminary classes.
“A lot of times they come and they want to learn because here they have a chance to … give that extra help to those (special education) students,” Cincotta said.
Cincotta said that there were even a couple of “football jocks” that would fight each other to be able to help the special education students.