Special Education Academic Overview
Brehm delivers a unique holistic educational program that fulfills the academic, social, and emotional needs of each student.
Brehm’s 24/7 school is made up of an extraordinarily dedicated team of:
- Speech-Language Pathologists
- Dorm parents
- Recreation Staff
- Registered Nurses
Our staff supervises, mentors, and assists students in all aspects of student life, including but not limited to academics, music, the arts, school projects, sports, recreational activities and clubs.
Your Child: Disabilities and a Special Education
Students enter the Brehm program often with histories of school failure, academic deficits, an attitude of helplessness, and anxiety about learning. They did not thrive or build self determination through traditional school models. Most arrive without an understanding of their learning needs; many have not yet seen beyond their failures to find their strengths. Brehm’s academic program, therefore, does not mirror the typical school environment. Rather it strives to create a model in which all our students can learn, despite their disabilities and school history. Teaching them appropriately is a complicated endeavor that must occur while meeting state requirements for graduation, approval by Illinois State Board of Education, and accreditation standards set by ISACS and NCA.
The academic program is securely rooted in Brehm’s mission to empower students to recognize and realize their full potential. Each student is a unique individual with unique needs who deserves a safe, yet challenging environment to pursue their uniqueness. Thus, the academic program is committed to small class sizes taught by instructors involved in ongoing staff development. Our educational model is driven by the needs of students, which dictate that the curriculum must flex while delivering diverse yet systematic instruction that will accommodate those needs. Accommodating student needs is achieved in a variety of ways.
The academic program uses multi-tiered scheduling. The first tier consists of remedial classes in math, reading, and writing, comprised of two to four students to one trained instructor. These classes are geared to fill in student academic holes through intensive skill-specific, ability level instruction. The next tier, modified classes, is a bridge between remedial and standard classes. Modified classes include math, writing, reading, and core classes for those who have moved beyond remedial but are not ready to master standard content. Modified classes have four to six students taught by one trained instructor in each class. Standard courses are composed of six to eight students working at grade level who are taught by an instructor certified in the content area. Instructors of these classes work to meet state standards and develop academic competencies that will prepare students for college expectations and the adult world.
Curriculum tiers are fluid — students may shift between them depending on their mastery levels. The hope is that students will continuously move toward as many standard classes as their profiles will permit. Students are not “tracked” into one tier, but are scheduled for whatever tiers befit their profiles on a class-by-class basis. For example, one student may be scheduled for remedial reading, modified writing and social studies, along with standard math and science classes. All academic tiers are strongly supported by the additional therapy and instruction provided in pull-out sessions with speech and language, assistive technology, and the therapeutic part of program. In our holistic model, these supports are imperative for students to move through the academic tiers toward greater success.
Differentiation of instruction
Scheduling itself only goes so far to meet the needs of our students. Differentiation of instruction to master Brehm competencies and state standards must be an intrinsic practice within each class. This is accomplished through two philosophies enacted by all faculty: Brehm performance levels and Bloom’s taxonomy of learning.
Brehm performance levels reflect a student’s ability to perform given tasks on a continuum of self-directed learning (PL6) to refusal to perform (PL0). The premise is that all lessons begin at an instructional level and from there move toward extended support or independence. The performance level is dependent upon a myriad of factors such as mastery level, internal and external locus of control, school failure and success, student profile, and teacher or student directed behavior.
Concurrently, differentiation within each class occurs based on Bloom’s hierarchy of learning. The short-hand labels for “Bloom’s levels” are: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis/creative thinking, and critical thinking. Visitors will see visual aids to this effect posted in classrooms.
To illustrate how the use of these levels transpires: one student may be asked to perform an assignment or task that requires comprehension with teacher prompts (PL4) with a mastery of 80% while another student is asked to perform an assignment that requires analysis of given information independently (PL5) with a mastery of 90%. This process is successful when instructors understand the needs of each student. In order to recognize the needs of each student, teachers complete class rosters of their students’ profiles and participate in developing Holistic Intervention Plans (HIPs). Instructors then adjust their level of support and set the instructional level according to each student’s plan. These adjustments are captured in the student progress reports for each class. This information is helpful to students, parents, and staff as they move forward with instruction and post-high school transition plans.
Our students must understand what they need in order to empower themselves and advocate for their needs. Therefore, students are taught about their learning disabilities. Instructors, advisers, and speech-language therapists engage students in a process of reflection about their goals, strengths, weaknesses, strategies, and resources. This process necessitates that faculty are aware of the characteristics, implications, learning style, and methodologies required for each student profile. This knowledge allows faculty to support students’ quest for empowerment by fostering positive relationships with their students, providing a safe environment, supporting mindful strategy use, teaching compensatory strategies when necessary, securing best practices, and allowing accommodations and modifications that will best promote success.
The academic program strongly ascribes to the tenet that a skill taught in multiple settings and multiple times with a similar protocol will best ensure that a student can maintain and generalize that skill. This is exercised through cross-curricular expectations and methodologies. Writing across curriculum is one good example. All classes are expected to assign writing tasks that require the same process set up in rubrics or product guides housed in the students‘ Brehm Organizational System (BOS). All classes use the software program Inspiration to outline writing assignments, and writing assignments are completed on student laptops. Students, depending on their level of independence, are expected to use the product guides to self-monitor their work. By making these processes explicit, we hope that they will be internalized and transferred to a college setting.
Teachable moments/holistic programming
Language development, technology use, self-management, executive functioning, and social and emotional regulation are supported and addressed as teachable moments in the academic program. These areas comprise over-arching attributes that create barriers in multiple domains and settings for our students. A student who is too anxious cannot recall information. A student who feels isolated may not attend. A student with inadequate time management skills will fail long term assignments. A student who cannot read will not go to college without the use of technology. And a student who struggles with language will flounder in academic, social, and emotional realms. Because Brehm addresses all these areas, we improve each student’s ability to reach his or her potential.