Y `friends’ aid developmentally disabled

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    By KRISTI SMIT

    They call it a “circle of friends,” but for others who participate in the Church Educational System Special Education Inservice program, it is a learning experience they will not soon forget.

    The BYU branch of the CES Special Education Inservice program sends teachers and volunteers — called “seminary friends” — to over half of the seminaries in Utah Valley, where students who are developmentally disabled or have special needs are “taught the gospel at their level, with an emphasis on `feel’ and `do,'” said Fred Oliver, director of the program.

    Oliver explained that although most special needs students are mainstreamed, many students aren’t able to grasp the “know” emphasis of regular seminary classes, where facts, dates, and historical background make up a large part of the curriculum. This leads to the students feeling spiritually isolated, which is why the classes for special needs students were created, Oliver said.

    Teachers in the special education program focus on concrete actions and practical applications of the gospel instead of more abstract concepts, Oliver said.

    “We invite them to make their actions more like Christ’s,” he said.

    For example, some students have behavioral problems that make listening difficult, so teachers will start out teaching them to “listen like Jesus,” a simpler concept that the students can deal with on an everyday basis.

    The CES Special Education Inservice program works to “train teachers to know the gospel hand-in-hand with knowing their students,” Oliver said. Teachers are encouraged to get involved with their students and pay a visit to them at home.

    “It is the awesomest thing in the whole world,” said Marla Barton, a former special education teacher, referring to the program.

    “It is so rad. It really becomes like a family. I am so close to my students — I still keep in contact,” she said. Barton is leaving the program to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but wants to return to teaching when she gets back.

    “I love my kids. I miss them. They are my kids,” she said. “I still pray for them.”

    Barton’s experience seems to be typical.

    Sabra Andersen, who is currently serving a service mission with the program, said that she has noticed the same reaction felt by other “friends” who come to volunteer in the classrooms.

    “Again and again they tell me that this (helping out the special needs students) is a blessing,” Andersen said.

    “It certainly is a blessing to us in the seminaries, but it’s always a blessing to those who come,” she said.

    Andersen said that people who want to volunteer are encouraged to come and sign up for a semester.

    “The children get very attached to them,” she said.

    People interested in becoming a volunteer “friend” may call 378-8329. Those interested in learning how to become a special education seminary teacher may call the same number, and will need to enroll in Religion C 472.

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