Across from the Lincoln Academy softball field sits an unassuming white house that offers respite from the bustle of the main academic building at LA. In this house 10 students and 4 staff people spend their days working on self-paced education with a special emphasis on life skills.
The program is called IDEAL (Innovatively Designed Education for All Learners) and it is specially designed to help non-traditional learners thrive. In the mornings the 10 students in the program attend vocational classes at the Bath Regional Career and and Technical Center (BRCTC) or Midcoast School of Technology in Rockland (MST), have Service-Based Learning, or work at job outside of school. They spend afternoons in the new IDEAL center just off campus, and work through a curriculum that leaves plenty of room for students individual interests and personal attention from staff.
To qualify for IDEAL, students need to be part of the special education program, and who learn best outside of the traditional classroom. These students particularly benefit from a more hands-on, individualized curriculum.
Students complete two academic blocks per day as part of the IDEAL program. These blocks include English, Science, Consumer Math, Algebra, History, Fine Arts, industrial arts, and independent living skills like cooking and personal finance. When a student completes a block he or she can check off the assignment for the day, and move on at their own pace to their next block.
IDEAL students are supported academically by four staff people. While they team teach nearly every unit, and emphasize that all four work collaboratively based on student needs, the faculty members each have their specialties. Special Education teacher Andrea Keushguerian teaches math and science. As an experienced chef she also works with students to complete their cooking units. Special education teacher Janna Civittolo has a background in art, social studies, and juvenile justice, so she is able to guide students on the humanities and behavioral components of their academic plans. Ed Tech Charlie Mitchell leads service learning projects and industrial arts skill-building, and Ed Tech Margery Kelly focuses on biology, especially ecology, gardening, and other subjects taught outdoors.
Students work at their own pace, and fill out learning reflection sheets daily to demonstrate their progress in each instructional area.
Completing academic assignments and meeting behavioral expectations allows students to participate in a “token economy” that is part of the IDEAL program. As students earn tokens through meeting expectations, completing academic work and service projects, they can use these for treats and privileges, starting with snacks and free time, and eventually building up to gas cards and gift cards for more advanced and older students.
“This is part of a positive behavioral intervention system that we are working on with [Lincoln Academy Director of Special Services] Laurie Zimmerli,” explained Civittolo. “We try to always emphasize the positive in this program. The token economy helps us reward student progress over time.”
“Another thing we have really worked on here is our partnerships with local organizations,” Civittolo continued. “We have worked with the Damariscotta River Association on several projects, including the Wabanaki canoe construction in ATEC. We try to get the students out into the community, for work or volunteering, as much as we can.”
Each afternoon finds the ten participants working in pairs or alone on projects, sitting on the floor or in comfortable furniture spread across the five small rooms of the house. The rooms are flooded with sunlight, and the atmosphere is peaceful.
“For the last two years the program was located in a classroom on the main hallway up the hill,” said Keushguerian. “This space is a huge improvement. This program ensures that we can serve all special education students at Lincoln Academy, regardless of their learning style. For some students the noise and activity in the main building is just too overwhelming. This house is quiet, off the beaten path, and has a space for everyone.”