As assistant head of school in charge of curriculum at Alverno High School, an all girls Catholic college preparatory school in Sierra Madre, Julia Fanara would frequently receive referrals from teachers whose students weren't able to meet academic standards. "It was frustrating because so often we didn't know how to help them," Fanara says. After attending an LMU workshop on inclusion, she decided to enroll in the Catholic Inclusion Program.
The experience was empowering. "There are a lot of students with unspecified learning disabilities, and they can be helped by differentiated instruction," Fanara explains. "I realized we needed professional development for our teachers to enable them to reach these students."
Fanara began to bring in expert speakers and send her school's teachers to conferences on inclusion. Every faculty meeting covered different ways to approach students who were not typical learners. At the start of each year, she now circulates a list of accommodations needed for individual students. "We have found that helping our teachers do a better job with the students who learn differently has made them better teachers for all students," she says.
Catholic schools face significant challenges in educating children with special needs – most notably a lack of the specialized services that are available in the public school setting. But even if some of the most severely challenged students might still be better off in public schools, Fanara believes far more students can have their needs met in Catholic schools if the right strategies are employed. "Every school should have someone go through the LMU program," she says.