|The organizers of the Hand in Hand Options Program for the Diocese of Nashville hosted a party at the home of Bill Gavigan Nov. 9. The new program, which will serve elementary school-aged students with intellectual disabilities at St. Ann School beginnng next fall, is an expansion of the Hand in Hand Program at Pope John Paul II High School. Margaret Burd, center, a major supporter of the program, and Adelaide Nicholson, principal of St. Ann School, address the group. Photo by Rick Musacchio|
Efforts to welcome four special needs students to St. Ann School for the 2017-18 school year took another step forward on Wednesday, Nov. 9, when the Catholic Schools Office of the Diocese of Nashville hosted a reception to introduce the Hand in Hand Options Program at the home of Bill Gavigan.
The program is an effort on the part of the Catholic Schools office to expand the decade-old Hand in Hand Progam at Pope John Paul II High School, which serves students with intellectual disabilities, to parochial grade schools in the diocese.
The expansion into grade school level classes will draw on the relationship between the JPII program and Vanderbilt University’s Kennedy Center to support the effort.
Gavigan’s late wife, Molly, was a driving force behind establishing the high school program in 2004, and their daughter, Jeannie, was one of the first three Hand in Hand students at JPII.
This will mark the first time that there is a coordinated program in Catholic schools in the diocese for special needs students to serve kindergarten to high school aged children.
The plan is to start at St. Ann with two special needs students in lower grades and two in upper grades.
“When I was principal at Christ the King School we had a number of students with special needs,” said Alice Valiquette, curriculum director for the diocesan schools office. “What people don’t realize is the blessings that special needs students bring to our classes is something that is intangible. You can’t see it but it is beautiful when that happens. The changes in the students themselves when they welcome students with special needs is beautiful.”
The big hurdle in establishing an inclusion program for specials needs students is the education of the community because parents can be resistant, Valiquette said. “People worry about it working and that it might take away from the education of their child, but it doesn’t. We have to ask people to really open their minds and their hearts and accept. And once that’s done, the rest of it falls into place.”
Pam Eatman, the Hand in Hand teacher at JPII, and experts from the Kennedy Center will meet with the St. Ann faculty in December and then with the broader school community in January to continue preparations for next school year.
Efforts are also under way to raise financial support to establish the new program.
“Hiring the trained special needs teachers takes financial backing,” Valiquette said, “but I believe that there are people who are committed to doing this.”
The committee includes Valiquette, JPII Headmaster Mike Deely, Eatman, St. Ann Principal Adelaide Nicholson, Elise McMillian of the Kennedy Center at Vanderbilt University and the mother of one of the first Hand in Hand students, Margaret Burd, Carolyn Baker, Kay Dodd and Gino Marchetti.