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Back To School Special Section Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 31, 2006

The Lindsay Myers story
One girl’s life as a mainstreamed student

By Holly Grosch

VOORHEESVILLE — In June, with just seven days left of school till summer break, 17-year-old Lindsay Myers dodged through the hallways of Clayton A. Bouton High school, meandering through the teenage crowd, occasionally putting her binder on top of her head and tucking her neck to squeeze through a small space between two students. In flip-flops with butterfly buckles, she zipped past a young couple kissing against a wall as if it were old hat and slipped into her earth-science class.

Navigating the halls by herself was not something Myers was able to do at the start of the school year. A petite girl, with shoulder-length light brown hair, pink toenail polish, and an Aeropostale polo shirt, Myers is a quintessential teenager — except that she has the cognitive ability of a second-grader striving to move her way up to a third-grade level.

"She’s advanced a half-grade level this year," her special-education teacher, Kille Lewis, told The Enterprise in June with wide eyes, emphasizing what a huge accomplishment this is.

Myers has also gained a new sense of independence. After the first few months of being led to her classes by an adult, she has now memorized the path and makes the journey on her own, which is a first in her educational career.

Myers has Down syndrome, and has been a part of the Voorheesville community all of her life. The syndrome, documented by British physician John L. H. Down in the 1800’s, is the result of a congenital disorder, caused by the presence of an extra 21st chromosome, in which the affected person has mild to moderate retardation.

The hall monitor watching the entrance to the school building looked at the sign-in registry to see the Enterprise’s destination. "Oh, you’re visiting Lindsay," she said. "I’ve known her since she was a little girl."

This close-knit extended family community is exactly what Lindsay’s mother, Lisa Myers, did not want her daughter to be pulled away from.

Two years ago, Myers was forced to go to an out-of-district BOCES program.

After Myers grew past middle-school age in the spring of 2004, that next year, the Voorheesville School District, under the recommendation of a committee for special education, deemed that Myers would receive the best education in the least restrictive environment in a special-education class located in Guilderland High School, run by the Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

Myers had been mainstreamed at Voorheesville Elementary School with a one-on-one aid, and then attended a BOCES special-education program housed in Voorheesville’s middle-school wing. But, as she moved into what would be her ninth-grade year, Voorheesville did not have an in-house program to offer her, and the closest BOCES program appropriate for her needs was in a neighboring town.

The Enterprise told Myers’s story two years ago in June of 2004, as her parents, Lisa and Jeff, challenged the district’s decision to place their daughter in a BOCES program for high school. They wanted Lindsay to be more mainstreamed and to remain within the district where she grew up — with the people she knew.

Myers spent the 2004-05 school year at Guilderland, and returned to Voorheesville for the 2005-06 school year. (See related story on options.)

The district created an individualized education program for Myers that included being mainstreamed into regular high- school classes accompanied by an aid who is also a certified special-education teacher. For some class periods, the teacher works one-on-one with Myers in a small workshop room to teach reading, writing, and math skills at Myers’s level.

By the conclusion of the school year, school administrators, Myers’s teachers, and her parents all had great things to say about how well the arrangement worked. It was so successful that another Voorheesville child with special needs graduating from the middle school will be joining Myers next year, in this new high school program that was created for Myers. Lewis, Voorheesville’s new high-school special-education teacher, who was hired last September to teach Myers, will teach them both.

Following Myers in June for a half–day at school, The Enterprise discovered she had been learning a range of life lessons as all teenagers do: geological eras, the best death-by-chocolate cake recipe, and how to identify who are your true friends. (See related story.)


"I like all foods," Myers said with a smile. Her favorite class is a foods class taught by Judy Zielenski. "You make the food, you eat the food," Myers said, licking her lips.

This elective, a class of about eight students, was split into three tables, which were the three cooking teams for the semester. As an end-of-the-year project, the kids were organizing a recipe book of all the foods they had made that year. The class brainstormed together how the chapters would be organized and what food categories to have. Three particular students dominated the conversation. Myers remained silent but listened intently, and her teacher, Lewis, offered suggestions as a member of the class would.

As Myers’s table began setting up the recipes to be cut and bound into the cookbook, Myers meticulously opened her school supplies zipper pocket on the inside of her binder and pulled out her own pair of scissors and glue stick, while other students scampered about the room, collecting supplies. Lewis offered up Myers’s glue stick to be shared, which Myers didn’t object to.

With a reporter watching this unfold from the corner of the room, Myers, a shy and quiet girl, often smiled and blushed, as she made eye contact and adjusted to her guest in the classroom.

Her cooking-team table included her in the exercise, being sure they got a "yes" or at least a nod from Myers, as they handed out the recipes to be cut and pasted.

While most of the students dove in, quickly assembling the pages, Lewis first drew a pencil line around the recipe for Myers to follow as she used her scissors. Then, after Myers cut along the line, she would pass the recipe to Lewis who would then re-cut it again more accurately, in a smoother line closer to the words.

"Don’t cut too close to the words," Lewis told Myers.

When a peer, 12th-grader Casey Sheridan, came across a recipe that she knew Myers liked, she said, "Here’s the old-fashioned chocolate cake, Lindsay," and handed it to Myers.

"Oh, yummy," Myers said as they reminisced together. "That was a good one," they all agreed.

A few minutes later, when The Enterprise asked what she normally does in this foods class, Myers explained, in the order of the days, what was done. Since the classes are 45 minutes, the students would start out on one day choosing a recipe and looking on a map to see what country it came from. Then it would take one or two days to actually cook and finish making the recipe. On the third day, the students would get to eat it.

When asked whether her favorite part was eating the food or making it, Myers responded that she likes them both. She also helps her mother make dinner and desserts at home, she said.

Myers is considering becoming a chef when she grows up, and getting a job in the food industries, she said.

When The Enterprise asked Myers a question, sometimes Lewis would slightly re-word it or help Myers organize her thoughts.

"What do we do first, Lindsay"" Lewis asked, putting the event in chronological order so that Myers could verbalize.

"Use your words," Lewis encouraged her; you can’t just move your head to respond, she said, coaching Myers.

When Myers was asked about her class schedule, Lewis split it into a series of questions. "Tell her about the two different days"There are P days and —"" "What changes on the fourth day""

Throughout the day, as Myers became more comfortable with the reporter following her, she answered more on her own rather than with assistance from Lewis.


In earth-science class, Myers was one of the more focused students. Nine other special-needs students were in the class, too, taught by Mary Kelly. It’s a Regents-level course, but is considered a supported class, Kelly told The Enterprise. She prepares everyone to take the Regents exam, and some students pass, but not everyone, Kelly said.

Myers is not required to take the final exam, her mother said, but, she said, "She’s so included with everything."

A number of the students had a hard time staying on task in the 45-minute class, taking breaks to go the bathroom or water fountain. Another student kept trying to read the newspaper’s sports page until Kelly confiscated it. Not all of the students came to class prepared with the correct materials, either.

The class uses the same charts and textbooks as a regular Regents class but has fewer students than the average class in order to offer more individualized instruction, Kelly said.

"I try to hit everyone’s needs level," she said.

Kelly teaches earth science a little bit differently to this group of students by the phrasing she uses, she said. Instead of asking "A is to B as B is to —" type questions, she will be more straightforward, she said.

New York State likes to use a little more sophisticated language and thought process, Kelly said. "It’s a higher language."

Another way Kelly modifies the class is that, in her quizzes and tests, she includes fewer math questions. In the regular Regents class, she includes eight challenging math questions while for this supported class the test has three difficult math questions instead, Kelly said.

An additional advantage of the smaller class size is that it offers more hands-on learning, Kelly said. In a regular class, for example, there are two to three students sharing one model; in the supported class, each student gets his or her own, Kelly said.

"I have a better sense of what their individual needs are and have more freedom to meet those needs," Kelly said.

"And Lindsay does amazingly well," she went on. Ninth-graders in general don’t love earth science, but "it really seems to click with her," Kelly said.

"I can call on her for a question and it’s not just mimicking back words, but looking at the table"being involved," Kelly said.

On the day of observation, Kelly was reviewing with the class radioactive decay. A chart up on the board displayed mathematical equations. The class also reviewed the geological eras and how fossils help to date an outcrop. Myers followed along with the chart at her desk, and collectively the class found drawings of various organisms on the top of the page and then matched them up with the correct time period. If Myers got lost, Lewis re-guided Myers’s finger.

"What’s the half-life of carbon 14"" Kelly asked, calling on Myers. Myers looked up at the chart, which listed the answer, and, after Lewis leaned in and whispered something in her ear, Myers responded "Five point seven times ten to the third."

"She is very bright and very pleasant...and has been very well received by the other students," Kelly told The Enterprise after the class let out.

Kelly said she has never had to urge the other students to sit with or include Myers; they just do so on their own.

"They’re very fond of her and tend to look out for her," Kelly said.

Myers has particularly enjoyed the labs.

When Myers enters the classroom, Kelly said, she often hears the other girls say, "Nice sweater, Linds," or, "Oh, you got a haircut."

On this particular Friday, the teenaged girls in the class, before the lesson began, were talking to Lewis, a young stylishly-dressed woman, about her shoes, asking her where she got them and whether or not they hurt her feet, while Myers sat upright, facing forward, waiting for class to begin.

The girl sitting directly behind Myers had brought scented markers, and a cluster of girls sitting around Myers began passing the markers around to try to figure out what they smelled like.

"Hey, Lindsay," the girl sitting behind her called out, and then proceeded to invite Myers to smell one of the markers. Myers turned around, sniffed, and made a face, then tried another one. "It’s root beer," the girl said. "Oh, my favorite," another said.

Kelly said, if anything, when she hears protests over assigned groups, it’s gender-based: "Oooh, do I have to sit with him!"

Special education

Myers is an auditory learner rather than a visual learner, Lewis said. It took Lewis two months to really learn what level Myers was at, she said. Lewis is a special-education teacher who is now finishing up her master’s degree as a reading specialist.

The tricky thing about special education is that teachers are not specifically trained for one individual disability, Lewis said. Teachers have to learn from their students what their needs are and the best way to teach them, she said.

This was Lewis’s first time being assigned one-on-one to a child with Down syndrome and her first experience working for the Voorheesville School District.

"We really focused this year on sight words — reading skills," Lewis said of her work with Myers.

Covering the left wall of their small one-on-one classroom were strips of paper with three- or five-letter words on them. Myers started out knowing only 25 words and now knows 150.

"She has really progressed in her speech and reading skills," Lewis said, by about half a grade level.

Myers told The Enterprise one of the first lessons she does each day is "putting words into sentences and spelling."

"Say it and spell it," Lewis chimed in.

For math, Myers is more at a first-grade level, Lewis said. She teaches Myers life-skills math, like how to tell time and how to make change, she said.

Lewis had to modify the earth-science tests Kelly created. "I modify them very little," she said.

"Her knowledge about that science is good," Lewis said, but math is more difficult for Myers, so Lewis has to modify the questions involving math, or reduce the complicated language even more then Kelly does for the other students in the supported class.

Since Myers’s reading comprehension is fairly low, for the earth-science review book, Lewis will assign fewer questions to Myers. She’ll use the same text and basic question content but include more direction, such as telling her on what page the answer can be found, while the other students are expected to read the whole chapter.

Myers said, in her interview with The Enterprise, that at times earth science can be difficult and sometimes she has a hard time understanding the teacher in class.

Myers is learning about rocks and minerals, though, Lewis said. She’s learning the minerals and where they can be found, such as having come from out of a volcano.

Myers takes her own notes and does all the labs, Lewis said. She often gets 100 percent on her earth-science quizzes, Lewis said.

Next year, her third year in high school, Myers is going to take mainstream chemistry. Asked why she is skipping over biology, usually the next level of science in New York State public schools, Lewis whispered over Myers’s head that is was because of dissecting frogs.

Often children like Myers aren’t given "the attention I’m giving her," Lewis said. The intelligence of children with Down syndrome is often overlooked, Lewis said.

"I try not to look at their IEP," Lewis said of the individualized education program. She first acquaints herself with a student.

"The test scores don’t mean anything to me," Lewis said. She said she did her first thorough reading of Myers’s IEP in December after she had developed her own sense of Myers’s needs and abilities.

For a person with Down syndrome, a third-grade level of reading is high; the brain at some point isn’t able to grasp, she said. She finds an "IEP almost kind of demeaning," or discouraging, talking about what that student’s ability is or probably will be, Lewis said.

But the IEP is good because it sets goals to be accomplished, Lewis said. She wants to remain Myers’s special-education instructor throughout her high-school years. She concluded that you really don’t know a student’s limitation until she is pushed up to it.

This first year together, Lewis said, was very demanding on both herself and Myers, since they had never worked together before.

Myers is getting more academics this year, Lewis said, while her curriculum before being mainstreamed was more life-skills based.

"Lindsay really wants to learn," Lewis said. "I and Voorheesville have given her a chance."

Finding friends: A challenge and a gift

By Holly Grosch

VOORHEESVILLE — Lindsay Myers was back on her home turf this year, at Voorheesville’s high school, after spending the year before in a special-education program housed in Guilderland.

Myers said, at first, when she returned to Voorheesville she didn’t like walking around the building because she didn’t want to get lost. But, by the close of the school year, she said, "When I get upset, I can always come back to the classroom." And, if she starts to get lost: "Ms. Lewis"" Myers called out, demonstrating how her teacher, Kille Lewis, won’t be too far behind.

"I didn’t like Guilderland High School," Myers said. When asked what she didn’t like, she said, in business class, she "had to wear gloves with powder inside."

Myers said she has more friends at Voorheesville than she did at Guilderland and agreed that it makes things easier when she knows people. In one of her regular classes this spring, she sat near her next-door neighbors, kids she played with growing up.

Lewis doesn’t accompany Myers to art class. She doesn’t need a teaching assistant for that curriculum, but, instead, she had a volunteer peer buddy who helped Myers get the supplies she needs, Lewis said.

"She’s got a feel for the school and is maturing," Lewis said in June.

It was evident after a short visit to Myers’s school that she had some good peer relationship with other students in the high school, but pinning down who her good friends are was trickier.

Myers said she has some new friends and old friends at Voorheesville.

And, at the same time, she said, "Some kids at school are not nice to me."

"Sometimes I’ll be embarrassed"My face will get red," she said. "They call me the F word and the B word."

She said she got teased at both Guilderland and Voorheesville.

"Some kids are very accepting and others aren’t," no matter where Myers is placed, her mother, Lisa Myers, said. In the fall, her daughter is going to miss some of the senior girlfriends she made this year and sat with at lunch.

The tell-all for any high school kid’s social status is the cafeteria dynamic.

Myers’s favorite cafeteria foods are grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato and chicken noodle soup, and pizza, she said.

"Who do you eat lunch with"" The Enterprise asked during a June visit to Myers’s school.

Her eyes lit up as she pulled out a sheet of lined paper from her folder. Myers had drawn a bird’s-eye view of all the tables in the cafeteria and labeled who sits where. She pointed and explained that on Mondays and Tuesdays, she sits with a group of seniors, which is a table of both boys and girls. Then on Wednesdays and Thursdays, she sits with sophomores, and, on Fridays, at the freshman booth, she said.

When asked how she decided who she wanted to sit with, Myers said she did not want to sit with the kids who make burping sounds, and that she picked the kids whom she thought were the nicest. She was proud of the weekly seating arrangement she had masterminded, but, when asked why she had such an elaborate plan, her eyes turned down.

She had been sitting with the seniors every day, she said, until she found out that they didn’t want her sitting with them.

The seniors had approached the school psychologist, Lewis said, and told her that they didn’t feel like babysitting Myers all the time. They said they couldn’t talk about regular senior things with their friends with Myers there and they wanted to be able to enjoy their last year together and felt like they couldn’t with Lindsay tagging along all the time.

Rather than Myers going back and sitting with the kids from the middle school again, she, on her own at home, figured out this rotation solution, to which her senior lunch mates agreed.

Myers said it hurt her feelings at first when her friends said they didn’t want her sitting with them all the time, but now she is happy with this arrangement, she said without any bitterness in her voice.

At first, she didn’t want to come back to school, Lewis said. But Myers is learning how to shrug things off, Lewis said.

After Myers had gone off to the school store to work, The Enterprise asked Lewis how many true friends Myers had.

"Not many," she said.

She added that making better friendships was something they were working on together. She is helping Myers learn to ignore kids when they are mean, and helping her to become more comfortable with approaching new people. If someone brushes her off, Myers is learning to then just move along and not waste her time, Lewis said.

"Not everyone is going to be accepting," Lewis said, and Myers is learning to not let it bother her anymore. When the seniors told her they didn’t want her sitting with them at lunch every day, Myers didn’t cry, which was what she would have done in the past, but instead was mad, knowing that it wasn't right, Lewis said.

Myers especially has to work on being comfortable around males, even around male teachers, Lewis said.

Planning for the future

Myers told The Enterprise she would like to have a boyfriend some day and that she has plans of eventually moving out of her parents’ house and living on her own with some roommates.

Lewis said Myers is at the age now — she’s 17 — that they are starting to think about career plans and also future living plans as she becomes a young adult.

During their one-on-one sessions, Myers and Lewis are also researching together what types of schools and jobs might be good for her as she gets older.

Myers told The Enterprise she wants to be a grown-up person and cook whatever she wants. She would like to be a chef for her career, she said.

They’ve looked at what the entry positions are, such as a kitchen helper doing hands-on food preparation. They are considering in her last few years in high school, as part of her individualized education program, vocational culinary training. They’ve researched working in a banquet hall and becoming a cake designer or pastry chef.

Since Myers is guaranteed education until age 21 all year long, even in the summer time, Mrs. Myers said she wants to have her daughter receive a job coach and enter a program where she can receive job training instead of going to regular summer school, which she had done in the past.

No kid "wants to go to summer school," especially when their siblings are on break, Mrs. Myers said. The program gives teens with special needs job training and placement in a local business.

The vision for Myers’s future living situation is to find a great small assisted-living home with roommates with mental disabilities, ideally a few people Myers already knows.

Just as Lewis was discussing this, a Voorheesville special-needs student walked down the hall; Lewis motioned, tilting her head toward him.

He stopped to say hello to Lewis and the Enterprise reporter told him that the newspaper was visiting Myers to write an article and asked him if he could share anything about her.

"She’s a pretty girl. She’s nice and has an awesome personality," he said.

A handful of Myers’s friends from her middle-school special-education class are still in that program. She sees them during fifth period when she works at the school store with them. It’s a place, she said, where students can buy pencils and candies.

"I try to do most of the work and money," she said, "but not to steal money, not stuff like that; I don’t want to do that," she said.

Myers’s mother said that her daughter still keeps in touch with a few girls she met while in the BOCES class at Guilderland High School, but they never became very close, she said. The students were from all over the Capital Region so they really didn’t get together on the weekends to hang out, Mrs. Myers said.

This year, Myers is in the Voorheesville Key Club, and enjoys the activities with those students, working the concession stands, and participating in community events, like attending the fund-raiser to beat cancer, Relay for Life, Mrs. Myers said.

When asked if her daughter misses interacting with kids more on her own level — kids she can relate to — now that she’s in a more mainstream education plan, Mrs. Myers said, "Everyone has their own level"There are not a lot of kids with Down syndrome ." It’s more that there are many kids at different levels, she said.

Lewis said that Myers had missed a number of days of school the year before, but has wanted to come to school regularly since her return to Voorheesville, and has had a better attendance record.

"Everybody in town looks out for Lindsay," her mother said, including the hall monitors and bus drivers. "She does stick out," she said, and they all look for her and watch her.

Options for children with special needs at Voorheesville

By Holly Grosch

VOORHEESVILLE — "It’s been a totally different experience"I have nothing but good things to says," Lisa Myers said. She is ecstatic about the special-education program her teenaged daughter, Lindsay, is in now — an individualized education program that combines mainstream academic classes and one-on-one specialized teaching in a small workshop classroom.

The arrangement has allowed Lindsay Myers to remain in her home district’s high school, which has been one of her parents’ priorities.

"It has worked out as a win, win," said Robin Jacob, Voorheesville’s director for special education.

Myers’s personal special-education teacher, Kille Lewis, raved about how Myers has excelled over the past year, and credited the benefit of the one-on-one dynamic.

In regular special-education classes, students with varying disabilities are clumped together, each with their own individual needs and the teacher has to teach to the whole class.

"I get in there and teach around her," Lewis said.

Any child could benefit from a personal instructor but obviously a public school can’t afford to give every student a teacher. How does a school decide when it is best and economically feasible for a student to receive this kind of education"

Jacob doesn’t agree with the assumption that one-on-one is better. "Many children would do just as well with four other students," sharing a classroom and teacher, she said. A student with special needs can improve at the same rate in both settings, Jacob said.

"There are often many ways to get to the same end," she said.

Over her parents’ objections, Lindsay Meyers was sent for her first year of high school to a Board of Cooperative Educational Services program housed at Guilderland High School.

"The BOCES program in Guilderland is excellent," said Jacob. And the BOCES special-education programs do offer academic inclusion, she said.

There are many avenues to meet a child’s academic and social needs, she said, and "every student is unique."

There is more than one way to achieve similar benefits, with a student being "equally as successful in another program," Jacob said.

BOCES classes offer excellent academic support, she said.

It really depends on "what the priorities are for the student when they get older," she said.

A committee for special education at each school district determines what is the best placement for a child, with the goal of placing students in the least restrictive environment, as required by law.

The district begins with trying to place a child in an in-district program, Jacob said. The next level is BOCES, and then a private program such as those at Wildwood or Parsons, and the most restrictive is a residential program, she said.

Voorheesville has not had a student enrolled in a residential program for many years, Jacob said, and has not placed a child in a residence without parents wanting that. One Voorheesville family in the past did want their child to attend the New York State School for the Deaf in Rome, which had the benefit of children being integrated with other children who know sign language and, as a result, peer interaction is more spontaneous rather than through an interpreter, Jacob said.

BOCES, however, also offers excellent programs for the hearing impaired, Jacob said.


The director of special education at the Capital District Regional BOCES, Inge Jacobs, told The Enterprise that BOCES special-education classes exist to help school districts with children whose needs are "too severe" for the district to handle itself, or to help districts that don’t have enough "classified children" to make it cost efficient to create their own special-education programs.

Voorheesville "traditionally hasn’t had the numbers" to have its own contained special-education classes, as larger districts do, but does have about 11 special education teachers on staff, Jacob said.

There are four full-time special-education teachers in the elementary school, three at the middle school, and four at the high school, including Myers’s teacher, Lewis. A number of these teachers teach both special education and remedial reading.

But Jacob stresses that her department deals with more than just learning disabilities. She arranges accommodations for 13 categories of special needs mandated by the government including visual impairment, physical limitations, attention disorders, and mental health.

"Each school and program is unique for what it can offer," she said of potential placements.

It’s her job to make sure that the district is meeting the standards set by the state and federal governments and that each child’s academic and social needs are being met, she said.

The committee for special education, in addition to parents, is comprised of special-education teachers, general-education teachers, school psychologists, and administrators such as herself, Jacobs said. Factors in determining placement include evaluations, testing, and the student’s ability to relate with peers.

Voorheesville houses some BOCES classes. The Board of Cooperative Educational Services pays a rental fee to the hosting district and the district, in return, offers support services to the children in BOCES.

In the 2005-06 school year, Voorheesville hosted its first BOCES class at the high school. The school had extra space and BOCES was looking to set up a new classroom, which was good timing for Voorheesville because one local boy needed this type of class setting, Jacob said.

Voorheesville has had a middle-school BOCES class at Clayton A. Bouton for four years, Jacob said. That class is for children with significant cognitive delays but no behavioral issues, while the BOCES class at the high school is for students with cognitive delays and behavioral issues who need a more structured environment. The two classes are not set up for one to transition into the other, Jacob said.

Voorheesville Elementary School has had a BOCES class for a number of years. In 2005-06, no Voorheesville students were placed in it. Voorheesville Superintendent Linda Langevin announced at the June school board meeting that BOCES has decided to pull out of the elementary school buildings for 2006-07.

While Voorheesville doesn't have any of its own contained classrooms, there are special- education teachers who modify instruction and pull students out of regular education classes for some one-on-one instruction.

"Very few students are placed out of the district," Jacob said. Why the switch"

Two years ago, Lisa and Jeff Myers adamantly protested their daughter’s assignment to a BOCES classroom at Guilderland.

Mrs. Myers still refers to the mediation from two years ago as a joke.

In August of 2005, the Myerses met again with the district, with attorneys present, and brought in an evaluator. They presented information on why their daughter should be placed back at Voorheesville with an aid.

"Our case was pretty strong," Mrs. Myers said.

But what she believes to have made the greatest difference was the new superintendent.

Mrs. Myers said there has been a complete change in the whole atmosphere and tone since Langevin became the top administrator.

Langevin has a master’s degree in special education.

Also, Mts. Myers said with a laugh that maybe the district gave in to get her off of their back. "They knew I was not going to give up — I was a pain and I wasn’t going to go away," she said.

She hopes now that she has paved the way for other parents and students with special needs — "maybe setting a new trend," she said.

Things have been fantastic, with a lot of positive feedback, Mrs. Myers said. Also, she has been very happy, and feels fortunate to have gotten such a great special-education teacher, who complements her daughter.

This time, the district has been "very good to work with," Myers said, adding there have been no fights, no hassles.

Jacob said she’s not able to disclose what’s changed exactly in an individual student’s IEP that allowed Lindsay Myers’s placement to be switched, but she did say, "The desires of the family and the uniqueness of this child" were factors.

A major component is parents’ desires, she said.

"It’s worked out magnificently," Voorheesville’s high school principal, Mark Diefendorf, said of Myers’s being mainstreamed. He sees Myers traveling through the hallway by herself all the time and he said, "She always has a smile on her face."

From the editor
Student voices speak out to the community at large

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

Our opinion pages are the soul of our newspaper. They form the place where the community can talk to itself.

We are pleased this week, in our back-to-school issue, to share with our readers the thoughts of nine young writers. They are students at Farnsworth Middle School in Guilderland.

As seventh-graders last year in Molly Fanning’s English class, the 12- and 13-year-olds studied how to write commentary.

"I wanted them to write for an audience, not just for me or for a grade," said Fanning. "These kids thought their community was their audience," she said of the nine letter-writers you see published here.

We’re pleased that, when the students thought of writing to their community, they thought of The Enterprise. We find their writing to be both thoughtful and thought-provoking. Much of it is based on their own experiences.

"They always chose their own topics," said Fanning of her students. "I stress writing with a personal connection. Their writing ends up better that way." Each essay took about a month to develop, she said.

We like the students’ idealism, some of it tempered with realism; we like the urgency and sincerity of their calls to action.

Fanning is dedicated to both good writing and student growth.

She has spent her entire career — so far six-and-a-half years — at Farnsworth. With both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University at Albany, Fanning always knew she would work with children. She says she loves teaching English and loves the middle school. Of seventh-graders, she says, "They come in in September as little kids and they leave as teens."

Fanning is a member of the Capital District Writing Project, involved in teaching teachers, and she and her Farnsworth colleague, Brigid Schmidt, have co-authored a piece on how to best assess writing, culminating on when to publish writing.

"It’s powerful to have even two teachers get together," said Fanning. "It spurs great thinking and reflecting."

We hope the publishing of these student letters will do likewise, spurring thought and reflection across our community. We’ll be awaiting replies.

Back to School in the Ivory Coast

By Ellen Zunon

Blue gingham. Khaki. Navy serge. That is what the phrase "back to school" meant to us when we lived in the Ivory Coast. Whether public or private, in elementary school, the girls&Mac226; uniform is a dress made of blue gingham, and the boys wear khaki shirt and shorts; in secondary school the girls wear white blouses and navy skirts, and the boys still wear khaki, but with long pants. Most often families purchase the fabric for the uniforms and have the garments made-to-order by a tailor, who probably has a pedal-driven sewing machine in a wooden shack behind an open market, where the sounds and smells of everyday grocery shopping will forever color your memories of having your measurements taken. A far cry from our flashy Sunday newspaper brochures with back-to-school bargains! Abidjan's "mall" is an open-air market.

Public schooling is free in the Ivory Coast, but families must buy the uniforms, textbooks and school supplies. If you live in the city, your family would rely on income from Dad&Mac226;s job and perhaps Mom&Mac226;s market stall in order to make these purchases. If you live in the cocoa belt, your father may have to borrow money against his upcoming harvest, which won&Mac226;t take place until a few months after school starts.

There is always a flurry of economic activity at the end of the "grandes vacances" or long vacation in early September, when families get ready for school. Incidentally, it isn’t called "summer vacation" in the Ivory Coast because there is no summer, winter, spring, fall; Abidjan, the major city, lies only a short distance north of the equator, and the equatorial climate there consists of a rainy season, dry season, and "harmattan," a dry wind that blows south from the Sahara just after the New Year and coats everything with a fine powdery dust.

Besides the uniforms, families must buy the textbooks and notebooks the children will use. The notebooks are quite different from ours; imagine learning to write in cursive on graph paper, in order to make sure your letters are uniformly formed. Or on paper with four fine lines to one of ours, for the same reason. Computers are still not standard classroom equipment in the Ivory Coast in spite of the worthy efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, so most children still practice penmanship rather than keyboarding.

There are about sixty different local languages in the Ivory Coast, although French is the official language, and all public schooling is taught in French. Since many children in rural areas do not speak French before they begin school, there is an extra year of kindergarten built into the system. This allows children to master French orally before learning to read and write it.

Our children struggle to score high on the SAT or other standardized tests in high school, but Ivorian children have an earlier hurdle to climb over; they must take a competitive exam at the end of the fifth grade in order to enter middle school. There are simply not enough spaces in public secondary schools for those who want to continue, and the competition for spots is tough. Imagine how much individual attention you get in an elementary class of 40 children, which is the average, and you can realize that it&Mac226;s pretty much survival of the fittest in the public schools. However, there are more and more private schools now, because the government simply cannot meet the demand.

Unfortunately, many children&Mac226;s schooling has been disrupted by unrest in the Ivory Coast during the last few years; it has become just another "hot spot" on the globe. My children sometimes feel nostalgic for the days when they went off to school among the palm trees, their chocolate croissant snacks wedged between the notebooks in their backpacks. Somehow things seemed simpler then.

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