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Pace School Helps Students Develop Skills for Future Success

By Lois Thomson

"It's important that families know we are a resource, that when they need more services than public schools can offer, we're here to provide them." Karen B. Shepherd, CEO of Pace School, discussed the different ways the school can help students who are struggling with emotional or behavioral issues.

Working with 40 area school districts, Shepherd said all of the children are in special education, and school districts work with the families to establish the child's functioning level. "When the team determines that students' needs exceed what the district schools can offer, they are referred to us. In the next step of the process, we review and determine if our services will meet the children's needs and whether space is available."

At Pace, students' needs are identified within their Individual Educational Program. "We look at where each student is and adapt a modified curriculum accordingly." One parent expressed the impact Pace has had on her child and family: "Looking back several years to when [Jack] started going to the school, it's unbelievable to me the child that they helped him become today. He still has hurdles to jump, but I know he'll get there. Pace is building a future for my son; we couldn't be more grateful."

Pace provides educational and therapeutic services for 150 students, at no cost to the parents. This is made possible with funding from the state and by the school district.

Students who come to Pace often have at least one mental health diagnosis, and Pace integrates a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) for those children who would benefit from a concentrated level of mental health and psychiatric support. "Within the school, there are 60 spaces available for PHP. This program doesn't feel like a hospital because the student's mental health supports are infused in their traditional school day."

Pace School also offers an Extended School Year Program to students. Students' participation is contingent on their eligibility, based on review. "There's a process that determines if students are unable to maintain skill set during a break, so we run a five-week, abbreviated day to keep kids engaged. Last year there were about 70 to 80 students." All students must be part of the school to partake of these services.

Shepherd said people may not be aware that school services are now offered up to age 21. Pace previously focused on elementary grades, but in 2015 started activating a high school license. Currently the school is in the process of developing a more formalized adult training program.

As it did with most things, Covid initially threw a curve to Pace. Shepherd pointed out, "Students are referred to us because they have intense needs and respond to learning through a variety of methods and supports. While onsite instruction is the goal, a combined model is important for the safety of our students and families. Currently about two-thirds of students are in the classroom; for the one-third still remote, staff are working with and communicating with families."

Shepherd added there has been one benefit to at-home learning­: "Both teachers and parents have seen students be more independent, do things we never thought they could. Teachers and parents are working together."

The outcome of the efforts to work together are acknowledged in the comments from the same parent quoted earlier in this article. "It's been a bit of a struggle the past few months for Jack; all the changes happening right now in the world are probably very confusing to him. We are so thankful for his teachers and staff at Pace, for guiding and helping us through the difficult times. They've truly gone above and beyond to make him comfortable with the unknown, and continue to cheer him on with the amazing progress he is making."

For more information, call (412) 244-1900 or visit www.paceschool.org

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