County schools receive over $43,000 in Crusade funds

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 Special needs students in Bullitt County Public Schools will benefit from the generosity of residents and the WHAS-11 Crusade for Children.

A $43,000 grant will be used to purchase an eight-passenger or less van with a wheelchair lift and room for two wheelchairs. The vehicle will include a sign on the side or back that says Funded by the WHAS Crusade for Children, Inc.

The funds will allow ongoing Community-Based Instruction (CBI) during school hours for special education students.

“This request meets the Crusade’s mission to help children overcome physical, mental, emotional and medical challenges by teaching our students with disabilities functional life-skills that promote independence and successful integration into society,” according to District Grant Writer Juliann Vachon who collaborated on the application with Director of Special Education Monica Tharp.

CBI is designed to help students learn how to live, work, and participate in recreational activities in their community. This type of instruction is based upon the belief that every student ― regardless of the severity or type of physical, mental, emotional or medical challenge he or she faces ― can participate in a meaningful way in the community.

“A lack of regularly available, cost-efficient transportation has held Bullitt County Public Schools back from fully developing its Community-Based Instruction program into a permanent, ongoing service for special education students,” Vachon said.

The van will be used to transport eligible students in grades 6-12 who are spread out among three high schools and six middle schools. The vehicle also may be used to transport elementary-age special education students for CBI based on availability.

“CBI involves teaching functional life-skills to students in community settings,” Tharp explained. “Potential instructional sites include supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores, dollar stores, libraries, post offices, banks, restaurants, food courts, public parks, job sites, bowling alleys and video arcades. Research indicates this type of meaningful, hands-on, functional instruction in a natural setting benefits students with physical and cognitive challenges who need exposure to real-world settings in order to apply the skills they learn in the classroom.

Unlike a one-time field trip, CBI involves ongoing instruction and repeated practice.

“Some common skills taught through CBI include reading community signs, making purchases, following a schedule, giving directions to a place, accessing recreational facilities and community resources, opening a bank account, and general problem solving,” Vachon said.

For instance, students might take a trip to the grocery store. Prior to the trip, students would read through a grocery store circular advertisement, make a grocery list based off the items in the advertisement and a pre-set budget, calculate the expected cost of the items, and then go to the grocery and purchase the items.

“All activities will be age-appropriate and target individual students’ needs,” Tharp said. “Teachers will align CBI to the goals and objectives in a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and also will reach out to parents/guardians to identify meaningful sites to visit. For older students (primarily ages 15 and above), CBI also would include vocational training and job shadowing in integrated community work settings.”

The district has previously provided limited CBI but couldn’t implement the program as desired primarily due to transportation constraints.

“The special education department does not have room in its budget to pay for regular use of a district bus during the school day (including driver salary and mileage costs),” Vachon wrote in the application. “Special education teachers occasionally borrow high school vans to take students out for CBI, however these vans are not available on a regular basis and do not have wheelchair lifts, which creates a barrier for many of our students. Having a van dedicated to CBI will help alleviate this problem.”

The special education department will maintain a van schedule to ensure that eligible students in grades 6-12 receive CBI on a monthly basis. The success and outcome of this grant will be measured in multiple ways.

“Monthly CBI trips for eligible students in grades 6-12 are being planned,” Tharp said. “Job shadow students will have more frequent trips during the last year of high school.”

The special education department will track the use of the van and maintain an accurate record of when they are used and by which teachers/students to ensure the district meets its goals. 

Additionally, the district will survey teachers, parents and students to evaluate the success of the program and ask for feedback on ways to improve it.

A key goal of CBI is to improve a student’s ability to integrate into society after leaving the school district. Special education personnel will measure students’ engagement in the community after graduation through surveys and by partnering with agencies that come into contact with them once they leave the school system.    

Bullitt County Public Schools has over 13,200 students in grades preschool through 12. There are 25 school facilities, a certified staff of over 900 and a classified staff of over 800 working to make the district the leader in educational excellence.