Looking for students’ abilities

Melissa Kupper, a Special Education teacher, is bringing her talents to Ave Maria Montessori School by offering a new program called the Ability Academy. This program incorporates some of the Montessori principles to elementary and middle school students. These principles are designed to meet the need of individual students. “Last year we had an inclusion class, and this year we are tailoring more towards the whole day special education part”. Each student entering the program will be assessed on their academics, behavior, and social-emotional abilities as well as functional living skills. “We’re trying to create the most well rounded child…” In order to do this, the classroom will have several independent work stations, room for big and small groups, a reading area, and a science room, which will incorporate life skills such as washing dishes, making simple snacks. There is also an atrium that has all of the tools that they would use to participate in mass. They will also learn to develop gross motor skills.

Melissa Kupper, a Special Education teacher, is bringing her talents to Ave Maria Montessori School by offering a new program called the Ability Academy. (Submitted photo/Lewis Perkins)

Although academic learning is important, the life skills teach them how to be more independent. This way, when they are home, they can help around the house and when they’re at school, they can help around the classroom. Because the school has a prime location where there’s access to restaurants, Publix, and other small shops, the students get to demonstrate the life skills they have learned. ‘Basically taking the knowledge that we learned in the classroom and applying it to the community… You can have all the theory in the world, but the practical knowledge is more valuable.”

Although autism is her area of expertise, Melissa has worked with many different types of students’ disabilities. “I’m taking what I learned teaching in the public school and incorporating them into this classroom.” By absorbing different techniques of working successfully with special needs students, she has a plethora of knowledge to individualize the learning to each student’s needs. “The focus is working on building the skills that they already have.” She further gives an example of how a basic math problem can take 12 steps. “By breaking this down to steps it’s easy to see where students struggle, and build on that.”

Besides being certified in Special Education, Melissa is also a certified Behavior Analysis, which gives her the ability to “…look at things through two sets of eyes”: what students are capable of, and how they react in certain situations. The Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) test helps her measure a student’s abilities so that she has a starting block. Melissa is hopeful that parents will be satisfied with the results so the program can grow. She also plans on incorporating the college students who are majoring in special education.

Currently, the school has seven special needs students, but Melissa is hoping to expand the program to accommodate more students including high school students and teach job skills to students that have graduated from high school. The students that are enrolled, have either attended the Montessori school, or have been recommended by other schools.

Though some parents will have to pay for their special needs child to attend, the school accepts the McKay scholarship, a program run by the Florida Department of Education that allows students with special needs to attend private schools. “Florida is really spectacular because they have a really generous program set up for kids that have special needs.” Parents can apply for this scholarship as long as their child has an Individual Education plan, (IEP), and attends public school to find out more information go to the FL DOE and search McKay Scholarship.

“I can’t imagine another job where I would be happier,” Melissa states. “Every day I can come home… I remember the good things that happened… like something a student has said… and feel that… I’ve done a really good job with them.”

The school does not offer transportation, so parents must be dedicated to dropping off and picking up their children. However, parents with special needs children, need to keep in mind that there are many resources in Collier County that focus on one disability; the Ability Program works with students of all types of disabilities. There will be an open house sometime in late July, the date is still to be determined, but Melissa is willing to talk with anyone who has any questions before then just call the school at 239-261-2272 and make an appointment.

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