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Two programs become one, to help infants and toddlers

Ken-O-Sha Home Community program merging with Kent ISD’s Early On program

John and Erin Stelma noticed their son Maddock was favoring his left hand and not using his right side at about eight months. The Stelmas brought him to the Ken-O-Sha Home Community Program, an early childhood special education program run by Grand Rapids Public Schools, where another son was receiving speech therapy.

Working with Chad Vostad, their primary service provider from Ken-O-Sha, the Stelmas were able to correctly diagnose the fact Maddock had sustained a pediatric stroke.

Vostad began the physical therapies Maddock needed to develop his left side, and put them in touch with the doctors needed to continue his treatment, says Erin Stelma. “Chad was our eyes on everything.”

Maddock and his parents benefited from a program that has long served infants and toddlers needing special services. Those services will only be enhanced, officials say, under a merger with a similar program run by Kent ISD, when GRPS transfers its special education center-based programs to Kent ISD beginning July 1.

‘I think we want to maximize the best of both teams.’ — Barbara Corbin, head of the Kent ISD Early On program

Leaders say the Ken-O-Sha Home Community program will fit hand-in-glove with Kent ISD’s Early On program. Both serving children from birth to 3 years old, the programs have operated side-by-side for years under state and federal laws that mandate services for children who have a delay in their development or a diagnosed disability.

“We’re actually merging the programs,” says Barbara Corbin, who heads the Early On program.

The Ken-O-Sha Home Community Program, headquartered at 1353 VanAuken St. SE, and Early On, headquartered at Kent ISD’s campus at 2930 Knapp St. NE, will be moving into new combined quarters at the Lincoln School campus on Crahen Avenue NE. The merged program will be called Early On since it is moving off the Ken-O-Sha Elementary School campus.

The transition is part of a larger shift triggered last August when the GRPS Board of Education voted to turn operations of its center-based programs over to Kent ISD. Housed in nine offices and education centers, the center-based programs serve nearly 1,400 students from throughout Kent County and part of Barry County.

Kent ISD’s Early On program director Barbara Corbin, left, and Mary Cok, head of Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Ken-O-Sha Home Community program, will merge their programs when Kent ISD takes over the GRPS special education center programs beginning July 1

Complementary Merger

Unlike most of the other special education programs, which serve students at several centers during the school year, the Ken-O-Sha Home Community Program is a year-round program that serves children in their homes.

Meanwhile, the Early On program will gain more resources and expertise when the Ken-O-Sha program comes on board, says Corbin.  The combined program will have about 72 persons organized in seven geographical areas to help families identify which state or federal programs are available to help their children.

Though Early On provides some of the same early childhood services as the Ken-O-Sha program, Corbin says her program relies on different funding sources.

“We can’t necessarily blend our funding, but we can braid it,” Corbin says. “I think we want to maximize the best of both teams.”

Mary Cok, director of the Ken-O-Sha program, says the 60 professional staff members in her organization concentrate on home visits, and work with parents as much as their children by directing the parents how and where to find help for their children.

Most of the 1,000 children served by the Ken-O-Sha Home Community Program every year will “graduate” by their third birthdays and go on to regular pre-school and K-12 classes, according to Cok. She will join Corbin in administering the joint program after spending the first 20 years of her career with Grand Rapids Public Schools.

“We work with the parents to help them develop their child,” says Cok, who has organized her staff into six teams that are cross-trained to develop individual education plans (IEPs) for each child. Her staff of primary service providers includes occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists and other professionals trained to work with infants and young children.

Most of the children they serve enter the Ken-O-Sha program at about 18 months, when parents become aware of delays in their child’s development that may indicate a physical or cognitive impairment.

Early Intervention Made the Difference 

This summer, as Maddock Stelma celebrates his third birthday, he will leave the Ken-O-Sha program and continue into a preschool program. His parents will continue to work with him and Grandville Public Schools as he develops his strength and dexterity on his left side.

Erin Stelma says the early intervention was the key to helping Maddock overcome his impairments. “We just would not have been able to do as much without (the Ken-O-Sha program). This was just the springboard to everything.”

More information  about the transfer of center-based programs can be found on Kent ISD’s website at Center Program Review pages.


Transferring special education centers to Kent ISD makes sense, consultant says

Let’s review center-based programs

The Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Ken-O-Sha Home Community program will move in with Kent ISD’s Early On program this summer in a building that once housed the Kent Vocational Options program
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James Harger
James Harger
James Harger left School News Network in January of 2020. James previously reported on West Michigan's economy, courts and politics for The Grand Rapids Press and Mlive.com for more than 37 years. He also is employed as Servanthood Leader at Immanuel Lutheran Church in downtown Grand Rapids. A graduate of Central Michigan University, he also has worked for publications in Holland, Mount Pleasant and Lansing. He is married to Lisa and has one daughter, who lives in Ann Arbor.


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