Edison High School was recently honored by the state for its program targeting moderately and severely autistic students.
The school's Systematic Utilization of Comprehensive Strategies for Ensuring Student Success (SUCSESS) was recently awarded the prestigious Golden Bell from the California School Boards Association.
This is the first Golden Bell the program has won since it started at Edison High with three students in 2004. There are now about 20 students in the program.
"This program is for those students who really have the need for a highly structured environment," said Elliot Skolnick, special program administrator. "Being on a general education campus, it allows the students to be much more integrated with their peers."
Skolnick credits the success of the program partly to the staff involved. There are two full-time teachers, eight full-time aides, two part-time aides and various specialists, including a speech and language pathologist and an occupational therapist. Many of them have been around for years; some even started with the program as aides when they were students at Edison.
"They're trained and they tend to stay a long time," he said.
There are many components that make SUCSESS stand out, including one-on-one interaction and classroom features that cater to how autistic students process information. Materials are color-coded and organized from top to bottom and left to right.
"Things are very organized and there is not a lot of clutter. There are very clear beginnings and ends," said Dave Yonts, a special education teacher. "It's beneficial because this is the way our students' minds work."
Independence is encouraged and rewarded, and each student is assessed on his or her own abilities and needs.
Many of the tasks assigned to the students prepare them for life outside school – they learn job and organizational techniques and general life skills such as cooking, manners and social interaction.
For many of these students, small accomplishments every day add up to big progress, teachers said.
Some students came to the class anxious and, at times, aggressive. Others came withdrawn, uninterested and seemingly unwilling to try things on their own.
Each student gets an individual educational and behavioral plan, and each student has an aide to guide them. With time, progress is visible.
"There is a lot of incentive and reward," Yonts said. "It's a lot of positive reinforcement."
Many of these students will gain a sense of accomplishment when they learn make their own lunch, brush their teeth on their own or organize blocks by shape and color. Some move on to courses at Edison that are tailored to more independent special-needs students. Others will go on to find jobs with companies such as Goodwill Industries and Hoag Hospital.
No matter what the individual achievement, all are better for having participated in the program, officials said.
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