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Reprinted from FDLRS FOCUS Fall 2000 newsletter
Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System

Old Friends Make Great Partners  -  Fall 2000

It was 1940, and Palm Beach County resident Margaret Pope Hovey was growing tired of having to travel all the way to New York to receive physical therapy treatment for her polio. Together with a few of her Palm Beach friends, she opened a one-room center at the Department of Health on Fifth Street in West Palm Beach, to make available the newest treatment for polio to local residents. Christened the Palm Beach County Crippled Children's Society, word of its existence spread quickly, and with it a demand for services that soon outgrew the cramped quarters. Within a year the Center moved to two rooms on Datura Street, and the following year, 1942, rented a three-room facility at 300 Royal Palm Way in Palm Beach.

The same year, Palm Beach County special education pioneer Marjorie Crick met with School Superintendent John I. Leonard to develop plans for a special school program to meet the educational needs of children with physical disabilities. That program came into existence, under Mrs. Crick's direction, when the Crippled Children Society offered the School Board use of one of its rooms as a classroom. Royal Palm School was born, and with it, a relationship between school district and community agency that has endured and flourished through the years. Because of the success of this early effort, and long before federal law mandated the provision of "a free, appropriate public education," the community came to recognize the need for increased special education programs to serve a more diverse range of disabilities. From its humble beginnings, Royal Palm School thus moved on to larger facilities. Marjorie Crick would soon thereafter become Palm Beach County Schools' first Director of Special Education, in which capacity she served with distinction for many years.

During the same period, the Crippled Children's Society added a second story to its original building, acquired ownership of the land it occupied, and in 1966, through the generosity of Mrs. Paley and a federal grant, added a second building, the Samuel E. Paley Pavilion. Recognizing that its original name had become outmoded, the Crippled Children's Society officially became the Rehabilitation Center for Children and Adults.

ln the mid-1980's, serious planning was underway for District- wide implementation of prekindergarten programs for exceptional students. It was evident that classroom space in District schools was at a premium, and also that some excellent special needs prekindergarten programs were already in place in the community at that time.

It was the combination of these facts that drew the School District and the Rehabilitation Center for Children and Adults (RCCA) together again. By this time, the Center had its special needs PreK classroom program in operation for many years. FDLRS Child Find, for several years before the advent of Area-based PreK evaluation teams, had routinely purchased speech-language, physical therapy and occupational therapy evaluations through RCCA for referred children, and had referred many families to the Center's PreK  program for services. Thus it was that, in 1986, FDLRS Child Find and RCCA sat down together to work out details of a contract that would make the highly regarded RCCA preschool program a placement option for ESE-eligible prekindergarten age children.

Today, the Rehabilitation Center for Children and Adults serves 14 three to five year old ESE-eligible children at its facility on Royal Palm Way. The typical student in the RCCA Preschool is one who meets District eligibility criteria for Orthopedically Impaired, with one or more additional eligibilities in the areas of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and/or language impaired. While this is the typical profile, this year's group includes children diagnosed with apraxia, developmental delays, vision and hearing impairments as well.

Several special characteristics of the RCCA program have made it a popular option for parents seeking services for their special needs children:

*It is the only agency contract site offering an inclusive learning environment. In addition to the 14 identified special needs students, there are five (5) typically developing preschoolers enrolled and in daily attendance in the program.

*In-class provision of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language pathology services supports full integration of IEP motor, self-help and communication objectives into the classroom routine.

*The RCCA classroom utilizes a developmentally appropriate curriculum and focuses squarely on kindergarten readiness skills. As a result, students transitioning from the program into kindergarten have typically tested at or above age expectation for entering kindergartners.

*Children are individually selected for the program. During the evaluation phase of the Child Find process, parents interested in possible RCCA placement  must contact the Center on their own. A brief assessment of the child is conducted by the Preschool Director and therapy staff, to determine whether the program would adequately meet the child's needs. To enter the special program, three things must occur: the child meets ESE eligibility requirements, the parents feel RCCA would provide the appropriate setting to meet their child's needs; and the Rehabilitation Center agrees with the appropriateness of such placement.

 The backbone of the program's effectiveness is the quality of its classroom staff. Leslie Kelly is a DOE-certified and State-Licensed Speech-Language Pathologist, and has been a hands-on preschool Director at the Center for the past 11 years. Despite her quiet demeanor, Leslie demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of each student's capabilities and needs.  The level of experience and expertise of the classroom assistants is equally impressive: Dawn Favia, three (3) years at the Center, has her degree in physical education; and Arjean Hitchcock, also three (3) years at RCCA, contributes her years of previous PreK experience and, formal certification as a CDA (Child Development Associate) to the mix. RCCA Executive Director, Pamela J. Henderson, one of the original architects of the contract, has provided on-going enthusiastic support for the program through the years. Together with the physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech pathology staff, the Preschool team has established a close and cordial working relationship with the ESE Department to assure that all IDEA requirements are met, and that each child the District places in its care receives a quality educational experience.

For further information about the Rehabilitation Center for Children and Adults Preschool Program, contact Leslie Kelly, Preschool Director, at (561) 655-7266, extension 32, or Dana Wilcox, FDLRS Child Find Specialist, at (561) 434-8299. Special thanks to Pam Henderson, Leslie Kelly and Vesta Hetherington for their invaluable assistance in the historical research for this article.



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