Educators, parents, church members, and individuals in the larger community recognize the benefits of Adventist education, and entire communities often make sacrifices to ensure their students are able to attend Adventist schools. However, for families of students with disabilities, the sacrifice is often increased. Families of these students often face an impossible decision: do they allow their child to remain in an Adventist school and forgo some if not all specialized services, or do they enroll their child in a public school in order to receive the services they need.
The Hawaii Conference Office of Education recognized this dilemma and responded by launching a new program in fall 2021 called REACH Hawaii. REACH Hawaii is named for and influenced by the North American Division’s REACH (Reaching to Educate All Children for Heaven) initiative. The program provides resources to educators and parents, allows for closer collaboration between specialists and classroom teachers, increases identification of students with disabilities, and provides avenues for direct services to students.
Caitlyn Ingham, the conference’s intervention specialist and a certificated speech-language pathologist (SLP), has visited each of the conference’s nine schools (K-12) across four islands to observe, complete speech and language screenings, and collaborate with teachers. Based on these visits, there have been 23 referrals to families for formal testing to address speech/language, auditory processing, and/or academic concerns, with more students on an assessment waiting list. Students who demonstrate need are offered direct services, including academic tutoring and/or speech-language therapy.
“Sitting in REACH Hawaii family meetings has really impacted how I see students in my classroom,” commented Sarah Traczyk, principal of Hawaiian Mission Academy Ka Lama Iki. “Most of the time, the strategies shared work for more than just the student being addressed. Caitlyn connects with students quickly, and they are just as invested in their intervention as the teachers are!”
In addition to positive feedback from teachers, parents have also expressed their appreciation for REACH Hawaii. One parent shared, “I’m so grateful for Caitlyn’s help identifying this earlier rather than later. I feel like everything we talked about makes so much sense, and I know now how to better approach learning with my son. I want the best for him and feel confident he will make progress. I know how to help him and advocate for him in the classroom, and I can’t thank REACH Hawaii and the school enough for this support.”
At this time, all REACH Hawaii services, including assessment and treatment, are provided at no additional cost to families. The initial development of the program was made possible thanks to the financial efforts of the Hawaii Conference’s schools and the generous partnership and support from VersaCare Foundation. As REACH Hawaii continues to grow, it is the conference’s hope that, through the continued support of schools and generous private donors, this program will continue for many years to come.
By Ashley Martin