Stoneman Douglas High gets special education that thrives
Home School-Public School Collaboration Creates Successful Alternative
WEST PALM BEACH, FL – Home schools often join the public school system as a virtual school. For teens who are homeschooled and bullied because of it, it can be a real thorn in the side, trying to integrate three schools into one. That isn’t the case at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where one mom, Nicole Hockley, taught English – a field that could be intimidating to a home school kid who would always want to defend his or her classmates.
Michelle Nuckols, the school’s special education program director, said she knew Stoneman Douglas, a district of high-needs students, would benefit from having an alternative school.
“[We liked the idea of having] a home school kid that is literally not an outsider in the high school, just a peer to be around,” she said.
Stoneman Douglas began experimenting with home school students in 2009, when they sent a district art teacher to home school a freshman.
Brian Sammis, the art teacher, now co-teaches art with Ryan Petty, a 17-year-old boy, whose mother survived the Feb. 14, 2015, shootings at the school.
“Their art comes out of it. It’s just moving,” Nuckols said. “The kids respond. They use the subject matter. They make beautiful things out of tragedy.”
Sammis and Petty said students from the homeschool program are frequently inspired to draw artwork with messages of healing or defiance during traumatic events.
“It’s pretty scary to realize how much that work contributes to the healing process,” Petty said.
Rod Goddard, a psychologist who spent several years working with special education students in Thomasville, Georgia, said he is not surprised that K-12 collaboration is having an impact on homeschoolers, who often also have more homework, more behavioral and emotional issues and extra problems bringing self-discipline to the classes, thanks to the fact that they are so isolated from traditional schools.
Nuckols said the Stoneman Douglas private school students have an important advantage over peers at other schools.
“In all of our program evaluation, for every kid I’ve worked with, if you ask them what it is that’s made you feel good, they tell you it was [at Stoneman Douglas],” she said.
Heath Dotson, the boys’ principal, said many students are introverted, and students from homeschool programs need more structure in their day and more time to work through assignments and managing their emotions.
“We give them time, we give them structure, and they benefit from that,” he said.
The home school students tend to know a lot more about their subject areas than their classmates and still need help with follow-up, he said. The students also do well in math and in technical subjects, such as construction trades.
“At the end of the day, we’re looking for a successful, well-rounded student,” said Cynthia Underwood, special education coordinator for Stoneman Douglas.