Siham Fakhreddine, Head of Special Needs Program at Beirut Baptist School
The Special Education Department at Beirut Baptist School (BBS) is a busy place providing appropriate services to BBS students for six years in a row. As the program has matured, it has grown from five students to now include 62 students, as well as 17 staff working in the department. The Head of the BBS Special Education Program Mrs. Siham Fakhreddine attributes that growth to the continuing improvements in the quality of the program. "We plan for each student according to his or her abilities and needs. Our goal is to challenge all of our students to improve over time."
The program is built around a staff that is dedicated to serving the special education needs of the students. The teachers are not "borrowed" from other departments, but are trained specifically for the needs of students. "We want to make sure that we provide not only academic support for our students, but also emotional and social support." In order to meet those needs, the department employs not only an onsite, full-time Counselor, but also a speech therapist. For students with reading difficulties the department offers 2 specialists in reading Arabic, and 3 specialists in reading English. It is common for the teachers to ask for more time to teach students. Siham will often be asked "Just give me one more hour with this student."
The program offers help both in the regular classroom settings, as well as smaller class settings specifically tailored for students with special needs. In the regular classroom setting, the special needs teacher goes into the classroom with the student, to help them and also in some cases to modify the curriculum, acting as a "shadow teacher." In other cases where the level of instruction is below grade level, students are pulled out of the classroom for personal instruction, or in small groups of 6 or less. They always join the regular class for Bible, Physical Education, and special activities.
The students have a variety of special learning needs including dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD… Some are slow learners, while others suffer from conditions that affect their ability to operate in the traditional learning environment, such as Asperger's Syndrome, heart conditions, or Epilepsy.
The department uses a variety of teaching strategies to deal with individual needs. They favor multi-sensory approaches that teach using touch, sound, and sight, rather than the traditional lecture method. Sometimes students, especially those with ADHD, require quiet rooms in order to study. Last year the department tested the iPad as a teaching tool. The results were very beneficial and Head of the Department hopes to acquire more iPads this year. "We had a student who was not able to write, but with the iPad he could drag across the screen with his finger and use the applications to learn." All tests are modified according to each student's needs and abilities, as is the homework. The levels of individualized instruction are noted on the students' report cards.
Students are normally promoted to the next grade level. Last year 7 students were exempted from the grade 9 Brevet exams and advanced to grade 10. There are no exemptions from the grade 12 Brevet exams, which will be a challenge for many of the students. Siham would like to see more options in the future for her students, to allow them better choices of where to attend University.
Things have not always been easy for the special education program. “Sometimes the supplemental teaching was distracting in classroom." Yet the administration, from the Principal to the division leaders, has been very supportive of the program. After 7 years of workshops, training, and raising awareness the whole school environment is very supportive. Teachers now understand and welcome the students and their "shadow teachers" in the classroom.
The program has been very rewarding for all those involved in it. The students are rewarded for their work by making progress. Siham Fakhreddine notes "The most rewarding part for me personally is when I see the students feel a sense of belonging." The program has been a great emotional and social benefit to some of the students involved. "We have one girl who was in a normal classroom last year but she stuttered a lot. She took an assessment and this year she is in the special education program. I asked her this morning how she felt. She started crying because she was happy, and she said 'I have more hope than before I joined this program. Now I know that I can do things, and that everyone is not better than me.' They are happy and satisfied."
For more information about BBS' Special Education program, contact information@Lsesd.org
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