I am a DCPS Parent: Kevin Donahue 

Kevin Donahue discusses his son’s pre-kindergarten experience at Walker-Jones and his thoughts on DCPS special education programs.

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Kevin Donahue is a DCPS parent. His son, Owen, attends a pre-kindergarten classroom with other four year olds at Walker-Jones Education Campus. We asked him about his experience with DCPS and its special education programs.
What’s one thing about your child you’d like every one to know about?

Owen is a very happy, good-natured boy who laughs a lot. This is his second year at Walker-Jones, and he is in a pre-kindergarten class of four year olds. He started last January, and this is his first full year. He really enjoys going to school, and he is excited when we drop him off in the morning. 

He’s able to have play time outside when it’s warm, there is a cooking class in the classroom and a farm on the campus where he helps grow vegetables that he eats as part of his lunch from time to time. He does painting, has story time, and he just really likes all his activities.

There’s also a pet guinea pig that he helps takes care of with the other classmates.

Why are you proud to be a DCPS parent?

I am proud as a parent because I feel fortunate to have my son in a program that really helps develop him. I think the program he is in is outstanding, and he is able to get exposure to and to participate in things at Walker-Jones that I don’t think he could if he were at another school – or even at a private school, for that matter. Parents of special needs children have a lot of extra challenges in life. Things that most parents take for granted can take tremendous effort for us. So, to have Owen in a really good school program five days a week is a real victory.

At Walker-Jones, he is in an inclusion program with a class of eight special education students and eight general education students. There are two teachers, one of whom is a special education teacher, a number of aides, and there are two classrooms that the whole class shares, so each group can have specialized time in their own setting. He’s able to interact with the general education population in structured activities, with a one-to-one ratio of special education and general education kids, which has really helped him with having peer models.

Owen has autism as well as a seizure disorder, and his symptoms of autism generally focus on his challenge of being able to understand and express himself through language. So that’s why being in a classroom for a big chunk of the day with general education students has been really helpful in giving him the building blocks of language development.

I am really happy because I have watched Owen develop – his language, his understanding of social and peer dynamics. I see progress in Owen, and he has come a long way in the year he’s been at Walker-Jones.

Ultimately, I talk positively about DCPS and Walker-Jones because I am an advocate for my son. I seek out the best program for him and work with the teachers, school and therapists to help improve his experience. It just happened that the best program for him is at DCPS, and I want to help keep it that way.

What is some advice you would give other DCPS parents who have just learned that their child has a delay or disability?

I would tell them a number of things. One is to develop an understanding using the help and guidance of others of what you would want in a program. And two, to be open-minded enough to recognize you might be able to get that program at DCPS. Don’t prejudge a program, a school or the system, but judge it based on your experience with it.

More generally, talk to experts and read books about your child’s challenges, but most of all talk to other parents. You are not alone, even though it may feel like it sometimes. There are other parents who have gone through what you are going through.

Let’s hear more about this farm at Walker-Jones.

For one or two hours a week, every child in the school helps out with the farm. They help out with planting and picking the vegetables, and maintaining the farm. The farm is planted in a small field adjacent to the school. Once a week at lunch, there’s something on their lunch tray that was grown and picked on the farm.

There is even a professional, Farmer John, who acts as a teacher and guides the students. When Owen’s class goes out there, it is with both his special education class and the general education class. They all do the same work and do the same activities, and it’s very powerful to see a group of special education preschoolers essentially doing the same work as the general education population.

It’s also great therapy because it involves improving gross motor skills because they plant and pick the vegetables, following directions because all students have to follow the same sequence of tasks, and building attention skills because it requires them to stay on a task for 15 or 20 minutes at a time. For any preschooler, that’s a long time to focus on a task.

If you stop doing the task, teachers and aides will prompt the student to return to the task, which on the day that I tagged along, was to use a small shovel to pour coffee grounds onto newly planted blueberry bushes. I look at the farm as great therapy – not just something that’s neat to have.

Read more Special Education News.

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