Pace School has been redefining learning for students with specialized needs for 50 years. The school opened as a licensed private school in 1967 with 24 students that were largely diagnosed with neurological and sensory needs that impaired their learning. The School obtained status as an Approved Private School (APS) in the early 1970s. Pace introduced on-site mental health services in the form of a school-based partial hospital program in 1985. By providing these systems together, Pace created a place where children could receive therapeutic interventions as part of their school program.
Pace is currently working on a grant funded initiative that will make success accessible to all children. PLAID (Positive Learning and Integrated Design) is a new holistic Intervention and education model being developed, piloted and researched by Pace. In order to accomplish the organization’s strategic plan of expanding services to include students up to the age of twenty-one, a new program model was needed. As the school had historically been elementary and middle school aged students, this led to a review of curriculums and program design specific for special education.
While focusing on STEAM, CREATing/MAKing, and Social Emotional Learning, Pace discussed and researched with local business partners, mental health agencies and service providers, other schools implementing this type of learning model, researchers and experts, community advocates and organizers, parents, and university personnel and has concluded that that these strategies have proven effective with non-disabled or more mildly disabled individuals. However, Pace has not found programs that have adopted or implemented these strategies program wide with students of the severity served at Pace. Programs that provide these strategies do so in isolation of each other but not in an integrated format. PLAID, therefore, is not duplication of current programming and will be complimentary to services available to children with severe and chronic autism or behavioral disabilities
Unfortunately, gaps exist in the post-secondary outcomes of students with disabilities and those achieved by other students. Educational and mental health systems struggle to engage, retain, educate, support and prepare students with disabilities for successful and independent lives. Students with disabilities are being left behind academically and left out socially. Most of the nationally recognized indicators for risk of failure are experienced by these students.
Unless we can re-imagine the way students with disabilities access education and mental health systems, they will continue to experience poor post-secondary outcomes. Pace has created an Instructional Design Framework in which every lesson incorporates not only reading or math, but also the soft skills that are absolutely necessary for our students to have success beyond our walls. The model hypothesizes there will be a tremendous positive impact on kids’ outcomes and futures when teachers use PLAID to intentionally integrate academic content and social emotional learning as they plan and deliver instruction.