Special delivery

"Special delivery" Continued...

Issue: "Stealth care," Sept. 16, 2006

Limited resources explain in large part the low number of even mainstream Christian schools offering separate special-education programs. AACS did not have current statistics on special-education programs among its members, but staff member Randy Scallion said schools in the group's membership are small and specialized: "Special-education programs are not a common thing."

Meanwhile, only 205, or about 5 percent, of ACSI's 4,000 domestic schools offer them, according to the group's membership enrollment data. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that about 12 percent of children enrolled in K-12 public schools received some type of federally supported special-needs education during the 2001-02 school year, the most recent year tabulated.

The paucity of special-needs programs in Christian education troubles McCormick, in part because he feels it reflects poorly on the church's view of those in the church whom the Apostle Paul called "the part that lacked." The reference is to 1 Corinthians 12: 22-25, the biblical passage in which Paul compares the body of Christ to the human body: "The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another."

Jim Johnson, an education professor at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, said complexity underlies the scarcity of Christian special-needs education. Accommodating the individual educational needs of the disabled is a "challenge for our churches and private organizations, many of whom can barely put together a basic structure for a general population," said Johnson, who specializes in education issues affecting the disabled. "When you add the complexity of what is required for children with special needs, you're adding a whole new level of infrastructure and support that goes beyond their resources."

Those issues led to the founding of Masters Academy (right). Elderine Wyrick, 57, a former Christian-school vice principal, launched Masters in her living room in 1988 after finding that neither public nor parochial schools could help her two learning-disabled sons achieve their potential.

Now located in Bread of Life Church in Duncanville, Texas, the school each year serves 38 to 40 kids of average intelligence or higher who have learning disabilities that cause them to struggle in school. Many are dyslexic or have attention-deficit conditions. Others have mild Aspberger's, a functional form of autism.

Common threads among students, Wyrick said, are social awkwardness, a resistance to change, and the need for more time to master material. "Our biggest hurdle is to help them understand that they really are intelligent and that they really do have a future. Many of them don't know because everyone has told them otherwise," said Wyrick, adding that students often come to Masters with bad school experiences.

Justin Walters, 19, is a senior at Masters. By the time he was a toddler, his parents, Lee and Leah Walters, knew he wasn't developing normally: He wasn't showing normal language progress and was strangely fascinated with things like air conditioner fans and car washes. At age 3, Justin received an Aspberger's diagnosis. After successful stints in a clinical language-intervention program and a secular special-needs prep school, Justin entered Masters in high school.

"It was perfect for him," his mother said. "It's very individualized, consistent, and nurturing." Walters appreciates Masters' biblical instruction and the emphasis on character and discipline. Justin "has just blossomed there," she said. Last year, he earned straight A's, zero detentions, and designation as "Mr. Masters Academy."

Justin works part-time at his dad's office, and his parents now entertain hope that he might someday live independently. Socially, things are still difficult for him, but he's working on it. "Justin has a couple of friends, but prefers the company of adults," Mrs. Walters said. "Now he's wanting to meet more girls."

Gateway School and Learning Center

Gateway School and Learning Center in Anchorage, Alaska, serves dyslexic children of normal intelligence but who struggle in traditional academic settings because of difficulties with language-based skills. Dyslexia, a brain processing disorder, hampers kids in learning to read, write, and spell. But the condition wasn't understood in the 1970s when Marilyn Anderson taught in Christian schools. Then, many teachers thought dyslexic kids had poor study habits or were just plain lazy. In 1983, Anderson started Gateway in her basement with seven students ("Turned around," Sept. 21, 2002). From the beginning, she tailored a rigorous curriculum but trained teachers to "teach to the individual, not the curriculum."

More Back-to-School Coverage:

Lynn Vincent
Lynn Vincent

Lynn is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine and the best-selling author of 10 non-fiction books.


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