There are 35,000 students with disabilities in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Meeting their needs is a daily challenge, and the school district tries to meet that challenge with a myriad of programs.
For example, North Miami Beach Senior High School has a cafe which serves customers while it also serves the kids who work there. They are students with disabilities, learning independence and job skills by working the cash register, making coffee, and taking orders.
They make progress, their teachers say, all the time.
“A kid who couldn’t put a lid on a cup to make coffee is now actually telling you what buttons to press to get the coffee machine going, this is everyday, a surprise,” said Odalis Martin, a special education teacher at the school.
Every school in the district makes accommodations for special needs kids, says Angie Torres, the executive director of the Exceptional Student Education department.
“We do have programs at schools throughout the district, whether the student has intellectual disability, emotional behavior disorder, autism spectrum disorder, we do have programs for vision impairment, we have programs throughout the district to meet the needs of our children,” Torres said.
For example, at Miami Central Senior High, exceptional education students take cosmetology and culinary classes.
At Kenwood K-8 Center, there’s a special program for hearing impaired students.
“It depends on the ability of our students, depending on what they’re interested in and their ability, we select programs to meet their needs,” Torres explained.
Obviously teaching these kids life skills and employability skills is important, but what about the academic side of things? ESE students can earn regular diplomas, it depends on how severe their disability limits them in the classroom.
“For some students, the goal is to enter college, for other students, it’s independence skills, employability skills so it depends on the unique skills of the student,” Torres said.
“But we equal what is being learned throughout the school, if we’re talking about the Constitution and government and all of those things in our regular education classes, we have the same curriculum in our special needs classes,” Martin said, explaining that they bring the subjects down to the level at which the students can understand.
Every time the ESE students do something we take for granted, like learning how to stock a shelf, it’s a major victory for them and the teachers who call their work a labor of love.
“That’s huge satisfaction, we know we’re teaching the skills they can use tomorrow and for the rest of their lives,” Martin said.