Focus is on race, language, disabilities

By Michael S. Hoey


The Delavan-Darien School Board listened to several proposals for new programs within the district on July 10.

The first program presented to the board was Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity, or SEED. Rosamaria Laursen, a bilingual reading specialist at Turtle Creek Elementary School, and former district teacher and administrator Jen Paepke proposed the program be explored. Paepke taught at Darien and Turtle Creek Elementary Schools before becoming an associate principal at Delavan-Darien High School. Paepke now serves as the director of student engagement in the Beloit School District.

SEED is a program that the Beloit School District has been utilizing for two years. Paepke said 50 percent of the curriculum is the participants’ life experiences. So far Beloit has used the program for professional development with staff members, but Paepke said it could include parents, community members or anyone else the district wanted to include.

The program includes seminars once a month that include a meal. Cohort groups meet for about three hours and discuss diversity, share personal testimonies, have discussions and build communities. Topics that have been discussed in Beloit include health and gender, sexual identification, white privilege, “black lives matter” and class and poverty.

Paepke said expenses for adding the program include training leaders at a one-week seminar for $4,000, the cost of dinners, a textbook and some resources. A common space to meet and access to technology would also be required. Paepke said administrators could encourage participation and her district is considering offering graduate credit as an incentive to staff members to participate. Paepke said almost 50 staff members participate in Beloit.

Laursen brought the idea to the board because she participated in it while serving as a program manager for bilingual education in Beloit. This will be Laursen’s first year in the Delavan-Darien district. Laursen said the goal was to get the board to consider adding SEED in the future. No action was taken at the meeting.

Disability program

      Sara Halberg, director of pupil services and special education, reported to the board about a new program she said will better meet the needs of students with intellectual disabilities. Halberg said students with those needs who can benefit from interaction with their peers have been included in the regular classroom as much as possible. She said the district has seen an increase in the number of students with those needs and the district is not serving them to the best of its ability in the current form.

Halberg said beginning this fall, all students with intellectual disabilities in grades six to 12 will begin their day in a life skills classroom at the high school where they will receive a modified version of the curriculum for the core classes and some life skills they would not get in the regular curriculum. After lunch, the middle school students will go to Phoenix Middle School and spend their afternoons taking elective classes with their peers. High school students will do the same at D-DHS.

Halberg said parents of students that will be affected are on board and support the change.

Career planning

      While the district has already been offering career planning services to students, Halberg said a new Department of Public Instruction initiative requires districts to do it in a more structured, scripted way. Halberg said the district will use a program called Career Cruising, a program the DPI recommends and provides at no cost to the district.

Halberg said the four key elements to the program are self-awareness (what are the students interested in or good at), exploring careers, planning and reviewing goals. She said many career planning activities will take place during study hall. Students will be encouraged to create career portfolios and explore 16 career clusters.

Dual language

      Board President Jeff Scherer said a goal of his was to see the district add another language to its dual-language immersion program. The district was one of the first in the area to offer Spanish-English as an option. Scherer would like to see Mandarin Chinese offered in the future.

Scherer said the way business is going today and in the future, being able to communicate in Chinese would be a very valuable skill in the workforce. He said the district’s strategic plan calls for helping students become 21st-century citizens. He added being able to offer Mandarin Chinese would be something no one else in the area does and that would be an attractive reason for families to enroll into the district.

Director of language acquisition and community education Ron Sandoval said other districts that offer dual language immersion programs offer more than one language. He knows of a suburban Chicago district that offers five languages, but that district is a much larger district. He said he was told that 27 percent of the students enrolled in that district’s dual-language program open enrolled into that district from other districts.

Scherer said he does not know if now is the right time to expand the program considering the financial restraints the district is under, but he said it wouldn’t cost any money to investigate it. Sandoval said there may be ways to do it, including applying for a federal grant to get it started, but public interest should be gauged first. He said he believed it would be attractive to the public.

Unifying mascots

      Phoenix Middle School teacher Terri Timmerman suggested the district explore expanding the Comet mascot to all district schools. Phoenix Middle School and D-DHS use “Comets.” The three elementary schools all have their own mascots.

Timmerman said she grew up in a district in which all the schools had the same mascot and she felt that led to pride in the district. She said when growing up she never wanted to be anything but a “Chieftain” because that was what she was at every level.

Timmerman said she does not know the history of the district in why the schools have different mascots, so she said there might be some strong feeling against making a change. Scherer said building principals will be consulted and the board could take a look at the issue Aug. 14.


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