The Hand-In-Hand Options program was started at John Paul II High School in 2004 to offer academic opportunities to families with students of all learning levels to attend school together. The Hand-in-Hand Options program was later extended to St. Ann School for elementary and middle grades during the 2017-2018 school year. Next year, St. Matthew will be the first private school in Williamson County to offer this type of program. With the Hand-In-Hand Options program, families who choose Catholic education now have a choice for keeping students together with their siblings and peers throughout the school careers.
“As a Catholic community, we are called to provide a supportive and inclusive faith-based community where all students can learn and grow in their faith while receiving the necessary educational foundation for success,” says Rebecca Hammel, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Nashville. “We are so pleased three schools in our diocese chose to offer this program giving parents the opportunity to send all of their children to school together for academic preparation and the opportunity to grow in their faith.”
The Hand-In-Hand Options has enjoyed 15 years of success at Pope John Paul II High School with its students graduating and continuing to post-secondary programs and entering gainful employment.
Due the success of the program and the need in the community, a team of educators from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, and the Vanderbilt University Peabody College Center for Special Education, along with diocesan and parochial school representatives met for a year to develop the Hand-In-Hand Program for the elementary grades. The 2017-18 academic year was the pilot year at Saint Ann School and was met with great success.
Families of children with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) have Catholic school options in the Diocese of Nashville through “Hand in Hand Options.” In designated schools, we enroll children with various learning needs that warrant curriculum accommodation or modification. At the high school level Hand-in-Hand students will engage in coursework resulting in a certificate of completion or high school diploma. The Hand in Hand Options initiative is offered in partnership with Vanderbilt University who supports our teachers and program design.
Our Catholic schools have a long-standing tradition of educating the whole child, knowing each is made in the image and likeness of God. Our Catholic schools in the Nashville Diocese have held this philosophy for over one hundred years when the first Catholic school opened here, and we are now expanding a program that will allow us to fulfill this rich tradition in new ways, our Hand-in-Hand Options program (HIHO).
“Hand in Hand,” as we fondly refer to it, is an initiative that opens the doors of Catholic schools to children with Intellectual Development Disabilities and provides them a full-inclusion learning experience alongside our traditional students. At present, the Hand-in-Hand program is active in two of our schools, Saint Ann School and Pope John Paul II High School. Our current structure affords our HIHO students the opportunity to complete their education in a Catholic school setting throughout their middle (grades 4-8) and high school years. Our goal is to expand the program from its grass roots efforts to a thriving program supported by our entire Catholic community.
We have already witnessed the fruits of this program in both schools and hope to make this dream a reality for more families in our diocese. As this budding program grows, we intend to expand our reach by welcoming children in younger grades and offering the program at two additional sites in the next two school years. These new schools would put the Hand-in-Hand program within greater reach for families located on all four sides of the city of Nashville. As we better ascertain the needs in the community, we can potentially expand even further.
On behalf of our Catholic school students and families yet to be served in our schools, we ask you to prayerfully consider a contribution to the Hand-in-Hand Options program. The benefits to the entire school community are life-giving, for the presence of Hand-in-Hand students in our classrooms has enhanced the spirit of dignity and the inherent goodness, value, and wholeness of all students in our HIHO schools. One of the greatest testimonies to this claim is a statement from a parent of a Saint Ann’s student whose child shares a classroom with a HIHO student, “I do not think our school was completely whole before Hand-in-Hand was started.”
Please join us in our efforts to serve more children in our Catholic schools. Your generous gifts of prayer and contribution are greatly appreciated and will go a very long way in making a difference in the lives of many.
For more information, contact:
Kathy Harrigan Boles, M.Ed., CCC-SLP, Director of Exceptional Learners, firstname.lastname@example.org
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