Assabet Valley Collaborative embraces individual learning for students with disabilities

Haley Michel, Staff Writer

While Algonquin prides itself on its inclusivity, there is one classroom that is often overlooked by students: room A113, where the Assabet Valley Collaborative (AVC) hosts REACH III, a program for students with special needs.

Directed by teacher Jaime Bedford, the classroom hosts seven students from surrounding towns, all of whom are nonverbal, have limited vision and predominantly use wheelchairs to travel.

“These are students who have the right to access an education and be in a school with their typical peers,” Bedford said. “They are capable of learning, and they do.”

When walking into the small, brightly lit room at the corner where the A hallway meets the E hallway, AVC students can be found doing crafts, science experiments and listening to stories, as well as participating in the variety of therapeutic services offered to them through the program.

It is clear that the teachers want their students to succeed. They move at the pace of each individual student and work together to figure out the equipment students need to fully access their world. They carefully take data on each student’s progress based on the goals outlined in their Individualized Education Plans and have frequent meetings to reassess these goals.

AVC nurse Rebecca Blanton would like Algonquin students to know that although her students face challenges with health and learn in different ways, they still want to be engaged with the community at Algonquin and adore it when other students reach out to them.

“Our students love, love, love to be near their peers,” Blanton said. “They would absolutely love it if a student said hi to them in the hallway. They won’t react the same way [as other students when acknowledged in the hall]. They might just smile. They might just stop what they are doing and look.”

Some students who went to Trottier are familiar with the program since REACH II, the middle school version of the program, is hosted there. Trottier students are encouraged to take a class that gives them the opportunity to volunteer in the Collaborative classroom.

“I did Collaborative in eighth grade,” senior Joe Greene said. “Back then it was a relaxing period; most of the time was spent walking around the halls with the students and talking to them.”

However, since at Algonquin this opportunity isn’t a registered class like at Trottier, many students don’t think that volunteering with the AVC is an option. Others can’t fit it into their busy schedule of academics, and some students aren’t even aware the program exists.

Students at Algonquin are in fact able to volunteer with the AVC during the school day as an independent study. This option is encouraged by guidance counselors; it just isn’t widely known about by students.

“The class [at Trottier] has a lot of value,” Greene said. “If [the opportunity to volunteer at Algonquin] was more publicized, then more students would surely take it.”

Students who are interested in volunteering with the AVC program can speak with their guidance counselor or stop by A113 for more information.