|Serving Special Students
Here is a list of all nine center-based programs that will transfer from Grand Rapids Public Schools to Kent ISD this summer:
Like most schools, it’s warm and welcoming inside the Pine Grove Learning Center. Colorful posters line the wide hallways. The classrooms are a kaleidoscope of lesson plans and art projects.
There also are differences designed to meet its students’ special needs. The hallways include large open areas in which to park the assistive devices, carts and gurneys used to transport students, many of whom arrive in wheelchairs. The bathrooms are large and barrier-free so childcare workers can change diapers and clean up some of the incontinent adult-sized students.
This is where 103 of the most challenged special education students and their families in Southwest Kent County find unconditional acceptance. It also gives them an opportunity to learn and grow despite their profound physical and learning disabilities.
Located at 2101 52nd St. SW, Pine Grove is one of nine special education centers whose management and operations will be assumed by Kent ISD this summer (see info box). The 10-year-old school and its sister facilities long have been under the management of Grand Rapids Public Schools.
- Students progress despite their impairments at Pine Grove Learning Center
- ‘Amazing’ teachers at Pine Grove offer a beacon of hope for students like Evan
Activities Tailored to Abilities
For 8-year-old Yazmine Corona-Rodriguez and her classmates, it’s where art teacher Lori Rueben is helping them glaze the dishes they made out of clay for their moms on Mother’s Day. They smile brightly at the mess they are making as they brush glaze on their creations.
In other rooms, the students watch and practice rudimentary yoga moves displayed on a video. Others take naps on cushions or exercise on assistive devices designed to keep them limber despite their disabilities.
A swimming pool consists of gently sloping ramps that allow wheelchair user to gradually enter the water for exercise. A sensory room with various light displays is available to stimulate and calm the students.
The students, aged 5 to 26, are taught and assisted by 13 teachers, 51 instructional support specialists and about a dozen nurses and social workers. Starting their day shortly before 8 a.m. and continuing until 2:30 p.m., the students are fed and taught with the goal of advancing their ability to function in a world that is not necessarily suited to them or their levels of ability.
Altogether, the nine center-based programs provide a learning environment for about 1,350 students from age 3 to 26 who have severe physical impairments and learning disabilities that prevent them from attending regular K-12 schools.
Pine Grove Learning Center was built in 2003 and expanded 10 years later to augment the Lincoln Developmental Center, a 40-year-old facility northeast of Grand Rapids.
Students Here to Learn
Despite their impairments, the students are here to learn and the teachers focus on teaching, says LaVonne VanderZwaag, who serves as interim principal during the transition to Kent ISD.
“It’s a valid education for the students who have the kind of learning needs these students do,” says VanderZwaag, who worked for 35 years in special education programs in Ottawa Area ISD.
With the exception of persons who are retiring, Lynne Kindy, a veteran social worker at Pine Grove, says most of Pine Grove’s staff will transition from GRPS to Kent ISD.
Paul Dymowski, who recently was hired to administer the center-based programs, has posted about 40 job openings which he hopes to fill by the time Kent ISD takes over the programs on July 1.
Dymowski said he was struck by the passion that the incumbent staff shows for their students. “The majority of the staff wants to stay and continue with their work. We were looking for staff in good standing,” he said.
Related stories about the transfer of Grand Rapids Public Schools’ center-based special education programs to Kent ISD:
- Director of Kent ISD’s new center-based program is on a hiring spree
- Report on center-based special education programs provides ‘a path to move forward’
- New leader for Center-based Special Education programs named
- Transferring special education centers to Kent ISD makes sense, consultant says