Although teaching children with developmental delays is achallenge, Michalina Peterson can’t imagine doing anythingelse.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “I just don’t think I was made to be ageneral education teacher. it feels so good to see these childrenmake progress and gains.”
Peterson has worked for the past eight years as a classroomteacher at the Developmental and Speech/Language Preschool inCrawfordsville. the preschool, which is under the CrawfordsvilleCommunity School Corp. umbrella, is located in WillsonSchool.
“Every child has individual goals,” Peterson explained. “Ourchildren have different needs. we have children with autism, Downsyndrome and other developmental delays. we have lots of help …occupational and speech therapists and aides. we are constantlymoving and going.”
In order to attend the preschool, students have to go through aformal evaluation process. Evaluations are conducted monthly, andstudents are added as they are accepted. the preschool is acooperative endeavor, and students aged 3-5 who live in theCrawfordsville, North Montgomery and South Montgomery schooldistricts attend.
Some of the students at the preschool are medically fragile. Othershave limited mobility, severe allergies or seizure disorders.
Students at the preschool participate in circle time, learningcenters and organized free play. they concentrate on literacy andpre-academic skills, language experiences, social, self-help, fineand gross motor skills, fine arts and dramatic play, sensoryexercises, exploration and observation.
Dee Meagher has been a speech and language pathologist with theCrawfordsville Community Schools for 30 years. she loves spendingtime at the
“I just love the kids,” she said. “I specifically asked to be ableto work with preschoolers. I am thrilled when I can take a childwho isn’t speaking very much and get them talking in sentences. Itis so important for them to know that when they are in school, theyare in a place where they can feel safe to speak.”
On a recent morning, circle time in Meagher’s class was underway. Abright-eyed little girl offered an orange plastic bucket filledwith cut-outs depicting different animals to each classmate, everytime asking the question “What do you have?”
The girl’s classmates would tell her what animal they had drawn.when every student had an animal, the students had to decidewhether the raccoons, bunnies, owls and bears from the bucketbelonged on the night or day side of a board Meagher held.
This, Meagher explained, promoted conversation between the studentsand taught them about animals at the same time.
Meanwhile, in Peterson’s class the students were observing theweather and counting how many days of the month had elapsed.
Lee Ann Bane-Smith, who works for the West Central Indiana SpecialServices Cooperative, is the preschool’s coordinator. she saidparents actively seek out the preschool based largely onrecommendations from parents.
“I get a lot of calls from people who want their kids to be withour teachers,” she said. “The word’s out. the reputation of thisprogram speaks for itself.”
Many students are referred to the preschool by first Steps, HeadStart, local physicians, the Women, Infants and Children andHealthy Families programs, local departments of child services,community preschools and elementary schools.
“We serve a lot of children and families, but there are still kidswho fall through the cracks,” Peterson said. “We keep gettingreferrals, though. it never ends.”
Students at the preschool have always had snack time, but this yearthey are also able to receive breakfast and lunch at school —which, the teachers agree, has been a very positivedevelopment.
“What a world of difference we’ve seen in our kids because they’renot hungry,” Bane-Smith said.
Getting preschoolers with developmental challenges ready to go onin school is hard work, but ultimately the teachers at the WillsonDevelopmental Preschool find it very fulfilling.
“After all these years in education, I still think preschool is agreat place to be,” Bane-Smith said.