Benedictine School Takes An Entrepreneurial Approach To Learning
Walking through the Benedictine School, you are likely to see Tai Chi being
practiced, juggling instruction, iPads being used to communicate, and
students working in the Healthy Way Café or in Benedictine's campus coffee shop, the Benedictine Bean. These are all instructional
methods employed by Benedictine staff to teach students a variety of
skills. Students learn functional academics as well as the independent
living, leisure time and coping skills that will allow them to access the
communities where they live in new and exciting ways.
Lorraine Slama is a special education teacher at Benedictine with more than 30 years of dedicated service to the success of her students. Lorraine commented, "Benedictine is different in that we tailor our teaching to the individual needs and interests of each of our students. We can be both adaptable and flexible in our approaches to teaching." She added, "The daily successes that our children have with their communication and social skills help to transform them."
In 2018, Lorraine's dedication was recognized nationally when NCASES named her their Educator of the Year, for excellence and innovation in meeting the needs of children with special needs.
As a certified recreational therapist, Lorraine has used a number of creative and innovative approaches. She discovers a child's passion for something, like an interest in dinosaurs, horses, or photography, and uses that interest to help him or her connect to the world. She recalls teaching juggling to Benedictine students to help improve their reading scores. These students were then able to teach juggling to other school children, which helped improve their own self-esteem.
One of the school's most interesting programs is "Learning Independence for Everyday Skills (L.I.F.E.)". This program includes the Healthy Way Café, an on-campus snack bar staffed by Benedictine students. The Café offers healthy eating options for Benedictine's staff and teaches students communication and social skills, along with vocational skills like money handling. Some students made aprons for the Café, which also taught them cutting and sewing skills.
Lorraine added, "The students coming to Benedictine today have more
behavioral challenges and need more guidance. Because these students do not
have a lot of choices in their lives, we create a teaching environment that
does give them choices, which empowers them."
Computers and individual IPads are part of the up-to-date technology at Benedictine. These devices help students communicate what they need, which is especially beneficial for children who are on the autism spectrum. Benedictine's "Structured Teaching Approach to Readiness Skills (S.T.A.R.S.)" utilizes assistive technology to encourage independence and increase a student's readiness to learn. The Pictello, an IPad program, enables students to speak into the IPad, which decreases their frustration and helps them access learning. And SMART Boards provide interactive programs that help students enjoy learning more.
In addition to technology, classrooms incorporate relaxation techniques like Tai Chi and acupressure. Classical music and lavender diffusers also help provide a calm and positive environment for learning.
Julie Hickey, principal and education director at Benedictine, adds, "Our
program is highly individualized, which is true in only a minority of
Benedictine's curriculum is an extension of Maryland's public school curriculum, meeting the Maryland Common Core State Curriculum Standards. Benedictine's Unique Learning System aligns with the Common Core and is modifiable to students at any level.
The school, however, goes beyond the traditional education needs of its students. As a residential facility, Benedictine carries strategies used in classrooms into the residence halls to reinforce approaches. Behavior plans are always adapted to the current needs of the students, changing as the students change. Parents of students who are not residents at Benedictine are also provided with behavior plans to reinforce strategies at home.