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Student talks about the importance of inclusion

Student Ben Niedzielski told the Park Rapids School Board Monday night how much he appreciates the opportunities he's been given in high school. Niedzielski, who has a form of autism, spoke about his experiences with inclusion. They have been mix...

Student Ben Niedzielski told the Park Rapids School Board Monday night how much he appreciates the opportunities he's been given in high school.

Niedzielski, who has a form of autism, spoke about his experiences with inclusion. They have been mixed, he said, beginning in third grade when he was removed from the regular classroom.

He said he spent the rest of his grade school years in a resource room.

"As I got older, I was fortunate to process things better," he said. During his sophomore year, he was allowed to take some regular classes. In his junior year, Niedzielski said, he took a woodworking class.

"In the future, I hope to restore antique furniture as a hobby," he said, explaining the class gave him the chance to gain skills some didn't think he would ever have the opportunity to learn.

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This year, he continued, he is taking American history. "The staff is encouraging me to try new things. Since I've been included, I've been learning new skills I think will be very useful after graduation and to interact with other students my age."

He said, he learns things from being with kids his own age and is happy about the chance to do so.

Outside of school, Niedzielski added, he belongs to an organization called People First. He handed out an information sheet from the group, encouraging the use of language that is more respectful of people with disabilities.

"Although it's sometimes hard to accommodate a student with a disability," he said, "doing so gives them the benefit of an inclusive environment."

What Niedzielski encouraged was "extra effort" in enforcing the bullying policy "to make sure people with disabilities are protected in our schools as well."

Area High School principal Al Judson told the school board he invited Niedzielski to the board meeting after he had given the same presentation to teachers on a staff development day.

"Ben is doing very well," said Judson. "He's worked hard to be a good student and to be a good classmate of everybody. I have the utmost respect for Ben."

Other Park Rapids students will have new opportunities as well. The school approved two new programs Monday night.

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Superintendent Glenn Chiodo asked for approval of an anatomy and physiology course to be offered for college credit through Northland Community College.

He said the class is basically the same as the one Kevin Young has been teaching. "It proves again the staff does quality work," Chiodo said.

Young told the school board he had 45 students in two sections of the class last year, but the average has been 25 to 30. Eligibility will be the same as it is for other college in the classroom courses and students will have to take it for a full school year to receive credits.

Judson said the district's costs will be $500 for the course and $50 per student. At this point, he said, it isn't clear how much, if any, the state will fund, but he expressed optimism. Some money will come back to the district since teaching college level classes in high school appears to be one of the governor's priorities, he said.

"This is the best financial aid package going for parents," commented Bruce Gravalin, Century Middle School principal.

The school board also approved adding archery to the physical education curriculum.

Rich Morehouse, a middle school physical education teacher new to the district, said staff applied for a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources grant. The grant for $1,500 was approved and requires matching funds, but several organizations seem willing to put up the money so there would be no financial commitment to the school district.

"There are many kids in the area who are very interested and it's an area where students can be successful," Morehouse said.

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He said they hope to be ready to offer the class in the spring in classes for students in Grades 7-10.

Morehouse and instructors Brett Bishop and Marion Goeden completed the National Archery in the Schools Program training last Wednesday.

In other action Monday night the school board:

n Approved hiring an English Language Learner paraprofessional through the remainder of the school year. "I think you are going to be faced with more of this," Chiodo said, explaining the aide will be for students who speak very little, if any, English.

n Approved Gravalin's request to reinstitute an after-school detention policy, starting Thursday, Jan. 3.

Gravalin said detention will be from 3:10 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Parents will be notified and will be responsible for their child's transportation home.

"Detention is an excellent example of an alternative to suspension," Gravalin explained. "The purpose is to help students motivate themselves to do better, whether it be in the area of excessive tardiness or lack of academic effort.

"Last year, we went from 47 suspensions to 15. So far this year we're at eight. We're looking at alternatives," he said.

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n Approved participation in the White Earth Reservation comprehensive education study on Judson's recommendation. Judson said the first phase will be to submit information with the possibility of some follow-up interviews. He said the study hopes to improve the graduation rate of Native American students.

"I recommend it to help us understand where we need to spend more time and energy," Judson said.

n Approved the first reading of a revised volunteer policy, which would require criminal history background checks for all volunteers who have direct unsupervised student contact.

n Received and discussed the monthly enrollment report, showing 1,614 students enrolled Dec. 3 compared to 1,605 Sept. 4. The increases are primarily in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and Grades 1-3.

n Approved the resignation of Belinda Donley, a paraprofessional with the district for 13 years.

n The next board meeting will be Monday, Jan. 7 with the board self-evaluation following the regular meeting. The self-evaluation was cancelled due to a storm.

luannh@parkrapidsenterprise.com

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