From the super

Column: Special-needs children enrich our Catholic schools

by Kathy O’Hara

Dear friends of Catholic schools,

Trey (four months, youngest grandchild) and I took a nap together one recent Saturday evening. Trey was in town for his twin cousins’ first birthday. It was a busy day! One that this grandmother thoroughly enjoyed.

As an educator, I have studied child development; as a mother, I have watched it happen. But observing it as a grandmother has given me an entirely new perspective. To me, part of the miracle of life is that so many children do, indeed, follow predictable patterns of development. However, not all children do so.

In the state of Kansas, approximately three percent of children are born with significant physical differences in their brains that profoundly affect their development. Another nine percent exhibit some other variation from the “norm” that affects cognitive and/or social development. Conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, hyperactivity, attention deficit, and other learning disabilities are examples that fall into this nine percent.

Since the early 70s, there has been a variety of changes in how children with these conditions are identified and served in schools. Catholic schools have had a reputation (rightly or wrongly) for not serving these children at all. So much has changed in 30 years! Advancements in medical science and technology have enabled us to know much more about how learning happens and how to transfer this knowledge into better instructional practice in the classroom.

In Catholic schools in our archdiocese, children with special needs are enrolled in the same proportion that they are enrolled in public schools. These children are served either independently by our staff or in collaboration with public school staff. Not only are these children served, but also the lives of all the children in the classroom are enriched because of the opportunity to interact with others who may have some differences, but also many similarities, to them.

Perfect Wings is the program that for the past 10 years has assisted our schools in meeting the needs of children with special needs. Karen Kroh, coordinator for the program, provides a variety of services to schools at their request, including classroom observations, customized training, and public school communication. We are so blessed to have such an excellent resource to serve our schools.

In case you were wondering where the name “Perfect Wings” came from, it is from a line of a song, “Don’t Laugh at Me” by Peter Yarrow. Blake Mulvany, my predecessor, heard the song and thought it aptly expressed the spiritual basis for including children with special needs in our Catholic schools:

“In God’s eyes we’re all the same. Someday we’ll all have perfect wings.” ¡Vaya con Dios!


About the author

Kathy O'Hara

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