Catholic Diocese Funds Special Education Pilot Program

By Megan Trent

August 30, 2012 Updated Aug 30, 2012 at 6:48 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - As many Catholic schools see their enrollment numbers increase under the state's new voucher program, the Fort Wayne - South Bend Diocese is making strides in its effort to provide education tailored to each and every child.

"Typically, Catholic schools have not been able to do that, because they've not had the resources," says Cheryl Klinker, Principal at Saint Louis Besancon Academy. "With the help of the Diocese, we now have some resources that we can draw upon."

Klinker is referring to a new special needs initiative funded through the Fort Wayne - South Bend Diocese. Her school will be the first to offer such a program.

"We have accepted several students with special needs," says Klinker. "With the help of the diocese, we've been able to get a new resource teacher, provide aids for the students and buy resource materials."

Bishop Kevin Rhoades was at Saint Louis Academy on Thursday. He says, "We want to embrace as many of our children as we can. So, one of my priorities has been trying to find ways that we can welcome and educate students with special needs throughout the Diocese. So, this is really the beginning of something that I hope continues to grow."

Choosing Saint Louis Academy as the pilot school wasn't luck of the draw.

"It was kind of my nature, because I'm a special education teacher," explains Klinker. "I have 14 years of experience with special education. For me, it was very exciting. It's very dear to my heart."

In the program, special needs students are taught in the same classroom as their peers. Aids are also available for individual assistance.

"When they have peer models, they know how to model that kind of behavior. We're really creating a community here that is empowered to assist each and every student in our school to reach their potential," says Klinker.

The hope is that the success of this pilot program can be recreated in schools across the Diocese.

"We're now working on a starting a program up in South Bend," says Bishop Rhoades. "Then we'll continue to grow the program as we secure the necessary funding."

According to the Indiana Department of Education, more than half of the state's 15,000 school vouchers have been claimed.

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