special education | St. Louis Public Radio

special education

Julie Dubray, co-author of the children's book "Goodnight St. Louis," reads to students at Koch Elementary Schools on March 2, 2017.
File photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Kelli Unnerstall’s son showed signs of dyslexia in kindergarten but was not formally diagnosed until fourth grade. In the meantime, “his frustration with school was growing every year,” she said.

“He hated reading. We were worried about him focusing. And unfortunately for my son, he was exhibiting all the characteristics of dyslexia back in kindergarten,” said Unnerstall, who is a co-founder of Decoding Dyslexia Missouri, a parent-advocacy group that pushed for the law.

Starting this school year, kindergarten through third graders in all Missouri public schools will go through a brief screening for warning signs of dyslexia. It’s part of a 2016 law that advocates say will give students the help they need sooner.

Provided | Anthony Volkman

For seven years, Ackerman School music teacher Anthony Volkman has spent his summers creating the school's annual holiday program on a budget likely to make The Grinch flinch.

“We had $400,” Volkman said. “We had basic costuming; we made sets out of cardboard and paper.”

But this year, the program will be more elaborate, thanks to a $3,000 grant from the Maritz marketing company. It's not a huge amount — enough for props for kids in wheelchairs, professional lighting and more microphones — but the impact on the kids in this K-8 Special School District building in Florissant is incalculable.

Special education teacher Tiffany Andrews teaches a fourth grader about possessive nouns on Oct. 17, 2017.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

There’s a limited pool of people certified to teach special education in the St. Louis metro area, putting districts from St. Charles County to the Metro East in intense competition for qualified candidates.

Even more well-off schools feel the impact of the shortage, but schools with higher needs and less money often have the most trouble filling positions.

Mallinckrodt serves as one of three full curriculum certified gifted public elementary schools in the St. Louis region offered by the St. Louis Public Schools. High expectations are set for students who have tested and been recognized as gifted students.
Provided | Fontbonne University

Fontbonne University has been awarded a $1.25 million federal grant earmarked for special education teacher training. It’s aimed at addressing a shortage of special education teachers in Missouri, Illinois and 44 other states.

The private, Catholic university, based in Clayton, will use the funding to provide scholarships to 40 graduate students in its speech-language pathology and deaf education programs over the next five years.

Malindi Henning answers questions during a science class at Miriam School in Webster Groves. (March 2017)
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Miriam School is a small, private school in Webster Groves that serves children who've struggled to learn in typical classrooms. Thirteen percent of its students are adopted.

At first glance, that may seem surprising, as nationally, fewer than 2 percent of school-aged children are adopted. But studies suggest that adopted and foster children suffer from learning disabilities at twice the rate as children raised by both birth parents. For adoptive parents, that may mean a greater challenge in finding the right school or learning environment for their child.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis beacon, Oct. 12, 2011 - Wayne Johnson's 7-year-old son, Ben, has just started kindergarten because of the developmental delays he suffers from his condition known as Williams syndrome.

Ben has spent the last few years in pre-school near his family's home in south St. Louis, and Wayne said he got a lot of the services there that he needed. But once he grew to the age where he really needed to be in kindergarten, the Johnsons found themselves in a bind.