March Is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

The month of March is full of celebrations and change. We are “springing forward” with daylight savings, donning green and gold to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, recognizing women in history, and more. But March is also promoting inclusion in a lesser-known way.

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. This month is dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of inclusion for those with developmental disabilities, and celebrating all that these individuals contribute to society.

Coronado Unified School District has a robust special education department that works tirelessly to help ensure the inclusion and education of all students within the district. To help raise more awareness for these students and programs I spoke with two key members of the special education department, Special Education Coordinator Ryan Keller, and Adult Transition Teacher Katie Leontieff. 

Both Keller and Leontieff recognize that educating our community on developmental disabilities is a stepping stone to inclusivity. “Coronado is such a close-knit, wonderful community,” started Keller. “Folks in this town have strong connections and relationships, and that connection naturally extends to our children and young adults with disabilities and their families. These students with disabilities are an important part of our community, and when we keep that in mind, we can take steps to ensure that everyone can feel a sense of inclusion and belonging.” 

As Special Education Coordinator, Keller works with the staff members that support the district’s students at all four school campuses as well as preschool and adult transition programs. “While I have many different responsibilities related to ensuring our special education programs are making a positive impact on students while also complying with statutory requirements, my priority is to help teachers and other educators identify solutions to challenges they face and build efficient classroom and school-wide systems so that they can devote their time and attention to supporting their students in the classroom,” Keller explained. 

CUSD serves students with a wide variety of disabilities who range in age from 3 to 22. Keller explained that there are an array of programs in place to ensure each student’s needs are specifically met each day. “Each student’s plan is uniquely designed for their needs and could include anything from speech therapy to community-based instruction to counseling supports. Our schools are committed to meeting the needs of all our students, even if some students need to learn in a different way or with different tools,” said Keller.

One of these programs is called Adult Transition, where Katie Leontieff has taught for the past ten years. Leontieff describes Adult Transition as “a program for students with disabilities that are 18 to 22 years old, and the purpose of our program is to bridge the gap between finishing school and beginning adulthood.” Each of the students in this program has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and have received a certificate of completion of high school, which qualifies them to stay in school until they are 22.

For Leontieff, every single day looks different. Each morning the class meets for morning meetings to go over the weather, the date, learn some current events, and plan their day ahead. 

In this program, students head out into the community to learn daily skills to help integrate them into the next step of life after high school. This includes skills such as grocery shopping, doing laundry, opening a bank account, budgeting, going to restaurants and more. These students are also given the opportunity to continue their education through community college classes if they wish. 

Along with learning invaluable life skills, these students are given time and resources to decide what leisure activities they enjoy as well, allowing them to spend time out in the community and have some much deserved fun. Leontieff noted that she has some students who go off island for an art class for adults with disabilities, and she also has one student that takes a community college hip-hop dance class. 

“We also have two students right now that work at Buona Forchetta through our Workability Program… and we try to get some sort of work experience [throughout the day], so we will go volunteer at PAWS or the high school.” Workability is a grant that was applied for and given to the school district that allows for Leontieff’s students to work for local businesses for a few hours each week. This allows her students to get real-life work experience that they may not otherwise be able to obtain. 

Leontieff is grateful for how our community has embraced her students and supported them in whatever way they can, and wants to continue to see more community involvement as the years go on. 

“I would love to see our community continue to grow in including all people, and people with disabilities, into our community in any way possible… and just allowing my students to shine in any way they can and just allowing them and helping them be able to be members of society even though their involvement in the community might look a little different than everyone else.”

VOL. 113, NO. 11 - Mar. 15, 2023

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