A group takes a tour of the new Regional Special Education Learing Center Monday afternoon at R.O. Harden School.

Program offers assessment and therapy for low-incidence, special-needs students
Program offers assessment and therapy for low-incidence, special-needs students

The San Benito County Office of Education hosted an open house Monday at the new Regional Special Education Learning Center, which has been operating at the R.O. Hardin campus since January.

The new facility is part of a program transfer from the school districts back to the County Office of Education, which will now run the low-incidence special education program for students such as those who are visually impaired, hearing impaired, orthopedically impaired or those with multiple needs.

“We will serve students from Aromas to Bitterwater,” said Chris Lompa, the special education local plan area director for the San Benito County Office of Education, saying that it would encompass the entire county. “It also includes the infant program (and preschool.)”

Lompa said building the facility and moving staff members to a central location was a project three years in the making. The Regional Special Education Learning Center, located on Line Street in Hollister, includes psychologists as well as specialists who work with students who are visually impaired, hearing impaired or have orthopedic needs. The buildings have office space as well as assessment rooms, including one with a two-way mirror that will allow specialists to observe children in a more natural state.

Lompa said one of the challenges of the program is that it serves students from age 2 to 21. She said the facility has a full kitchen so that specialists can work with visually-impaired students on such skills as cooking and learning how to move around a new space.

The move was supported by the Community Advisory Committee, a group of parents and community members who work with the special education local plan area, the agency that oversees special education throughout San Benito.

“Really, the goal here is to better serve the programs,” Lompa said.

Philip Camilleri, a psychologist, was one of the staff members who served as a tour guide during the open house on Monday. He said one of the benefits of having the program in one location is that all the student files are in one place.

He walked visitors down the hallway and pointed out the different offices and spaces available in the new building. He showed the room equipped with a two-way mirror so that staff members can watch children at tasks, such as those who are being assessed for autism spectrum disorders. A playroom is set up for screening the younger children to check their gross motor skills and fine motor skills. The students can use a playground outside as well, to see how they move on the play equipment and engage with other children.

Another room has a machine for printing Braille so that the specialists can convert lesson plans or put together items for students to read. Specialized speakers in another office are used with hearing-impaired students.

Outside the building, there are storage bins that house all the specialized equipment the staff members might need when working with students.

Camilleri has already seen improvements in having all the specialists under one roof. He said he had been working with a student on another assessment issue when the mother asked about the child’s gait (the movement while walking.) Camilleri was able to call out a colleague who is an orthopedic specialist to look at the child immediately. They determined that there was an issue and put together a plan for the child.

Lorna Gilbert, the director of special services, said the staff members came in over the winter break to move into the new building from their old offices.

“It’s great to see the staff acknowledged,” she said. “It took tremendous energy and I was amazed that they rolled up their sleeves and did what they needed to do to make it work while at the same time still servicing the program.”

County Superintendent of Schools Mike Sanchez spoke at the open house as did Gilbert.

“We can provide better service to the kids in the county,” Sanchez said.

Gilbert said that she is encouraged by the natural collaboration and consultation that is occurring between specialists.

“We are bringing specialists for the most needy kids together across the hall from one another,” she said. “It’s the first time the low-incidence specialists are all in one building.”

Lompa and Sanchez also pointed out the improvements to the parking lot, which is lined with portable buildings for the low-incidence program as well as First 5 San Benito County and the Head Start preschool programs, as well other services. A chain link fence was installed to divide the parking lot from the classroom space. The parking lot, which has one-way angled parking, used to be an issue as visitors used three-point turns to exit the parking lot. The redesigned parking lot curves around behind the Regional Special Education Learning Center and exits onto Homestead Avenue.

“I’ve just been standing back and seeing the magic,” Gilbert said.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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