Class employs active, community-style learning

Published 7:36 pm Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The special education class at Washington High School is no ordinary classroom.

Ten students explore the world every weekday through colors, counting, science, cultures and stories. Wednesday’s story of choice was Page McBrier’s “Beatrice’s Goat,” which tells of a Ugandan girl who sells her goat’s milk to pay for school tuition.

Although most of the students are unable to communicate verbally, it isn’t an issue. They communicate via sign language and know one another’s personalities.

Each day they learn something new, and teacher Ginny Batts is right there encouraging them along the way, with the help of assistants and nurses. It is like a family.

“They make it so special,” Batts said. “I have 10 students with a very diverse need. Our range is basically like second grade to a month old.”

Having transferred from John Small Elementary School this year, Batts knew she wanted to create an active learning environment at Washington High, set up to mirror a supportive living setting.

“I did not want them sitting in a desk all day, and I wanted them to have some choices,” Batts said.

That’s when she enlisted the help of downtown Washington merchants to help with some of the needed supplies. The merchants stepped up in a big way, she said, as did other community members.

“They donated not only furniture, they donated items that would be used, like our boards, our markers, things that are very needed to things that are just kind of extras,” Batts said.

The community support behind the special education class is what propelled the class far this year. Batts said she sees improvement in her students; they have improved academically and socially.

“They are just absolutely the most loving kids, caring. They get your mind off of yourself. You forget your own worries and concerns, and you find yourself in just pure joy when you’re in here because they take you to another place,” she said. “It doesn’t take a lot to motivate them. It really doesn’t. They’re always very interested in what we’re learning and always get very excited.”

Batts’ students are capable of many things. Skills that many take for granted may be a struggle, but the students are ready to push forward and maintain a positive attitude while doing it, according to Batts.

Batts is retiring after 35 years at the end of this school year, and she said she knows the students will be left in good hands. Her love for the students and her experiences with them will be with her for life.

“They’re not after a prize. Their prize is coming to school, learning something exciting, being with their friends, helping. They’re so cooperative, and they’re so caring,” she said. “If you can get them to trust and build that rapport, get their confidence built, then you’ve got it made.”