JTHS Special Services return to in-person learning

Megan Krok, Views Editor

Despite the Joliet Township High Schools’ Board of Education announcing students would not be returning to in-person learning until at least January at their board meeting last month, students and staff in special services have gradually been returning to a hybrid schedule for over a month.

Five students within the AVAC program and transition center went back to school as early as September 22nd. Other services such as Pathways, made up of both Joliet West and Central students began hybrid learning on October 20th. Those within the transition school should be returning within the upcoming week.

Out of the 438 students who receive special services at West, about 18 have begun in-person learning. These students are in JTHS facilities two days a week, following a hybrid schedule.

Staff within the special services department of JTHS began considering moving their students to a hybrid schedule soon after the school year started. There were numerous concerns surrounding E-learning as students were struggling logging onto zoom calls, following schedules, locating assignments, and turning those assignments in on time.

 On top of this, technology was an obstacle both therapeutically and academically. As a result, many students who received occupational, speech, or physical therapy and social work regressed due to the abrupt interruption of learning back in March. “We realized that a lot of our families that we come across in the Joliet community just don’t have the same access to a social worker or a paraprofessional who is trained for our students who need that structure at the home setting,” recalls JTHS Director of Special Services Dr. Iman Ellis-Bowen on her decision to have students return in-person.

Another factor that played into the decision to give students the option to return to school was the positivity rates of COVID-19 in WIll County. Team members within the special services department discuss this weekly, taking into consideration the amount of students that are in the buildings each week. With this in mind, they work on limiting the contact each student has.

To further ensure minimizing the risk of spreading COVID-19, students are utilizing large, well-circulated classrooms to learn. Students also went through COVID-19 training which covered how to wear a mask, safely eat around fellow students, and other types of PPE. The training was successful, and students have had no issues following safety protocols, mentions Dr. Ellis-Bowen.

The special services department has also made social and emotional health a priority for students at this time. Lots of paraprofessionals are now assisting in what is called case management duties. The paraprofessionals make phone calls home, talk to parents, meet with students to talk about their grades, possibly discussing late work, and ultimately just simply seeing how students are doing.

Consideration towards the social-emotional health of both students and staff was crucial for a smooth transition. “In order not to disrupt the schedule for what the students and teachers already had,” Dr. Ellis-Bowen added, “we had to make sure to start off with the least disruption of coming back into the building first, and then continuing to progress in making changes to the schedule then communicating with who this directly affects.”

As positive coronavirus rates increase in Will County, as long as the county does not revert back to Stage 2 COVID-19 restrictions, students and staff involved in special services will continue hybrid learning.