BY LIZ STINSONWORLD-
HERALD STAFF WRITER
The Omaha Down Syndrome Parents Network is working to bring a collaborative program to Omaha-area school districts this year.Through the Down Syndrome Specialist Program, the parents network would provide training for teachers who work with students who have Down syndrome. Each district would be expected to name a specialist in educating Down syndrome children who would act as a resource for the rest of the district.
Mary McHale, president of the network, said the organization is hoping to clear up any misunderstandings between educators and parents. Lori Eyth, director of the network's specialist program, said parents often send their children to school with the idea that educators will understand the nuances of teaching a student with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes mild to severe mental retardation and physical problems such as heart defects.
Eyth hopes the program will help to reduce unrealistic expectations by providing educators with resources."We're putting our children in the school districts, but what are we giving them (the districts) to help them educate our children?" she said. "Now teachers won't just be learning as they go, they'll have someone who will be a go-to person."The parents network invited these districts or agencies to participate in the new program: Bellevue, Omaha, Millard, Bennington, Council Bluffs, Douglas County West, Elkhorn, Educational Service Unit No. 3, Gretna, Omaha Catholic Schools, Papillion-LaVista, Ralston, Plattsmouth, South Sarpy District No. 46 and Westside.McHale expects to know in September how many have chosen to participate.The network hopes to have the program fully implemented by fall of 2009.
Jenny Brockman, coordinator for secondary special education services for Westside Community Schools, said district officials haven't selected a specific person to fill the spot, but they're looking forward to being a part of the program."We try to tap into as many parent advocacy groups as we can find," she said. "We're excited to jump on board."The Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City started the program in 2004 after finding that both parents and teachers were nervous about educating students with Down syndrome."We thought that we need to get everybody together and create a collaborative, cooperative, welcoming environment so everyone's not anxious," said Amy Allison, executive director of the guild.
Allison has helped jumpstart programs in Memphis, Atlanta, Dallas, St. Louis and now Omaha."Our dream is to take it nationally," Allison said.