Finding the right preschool can be a tough task for parents—the nervousness, separation anxiety and hope that their child loves it. After all, this is the child’s first experience with school, and every parent wants it to be positive.
For parents of special education students, the task can be even tougher as the list of needs is even broader. Ramona Unified School District offers a program just for special education preschoolers that is in its 21st year at Ramona Elementary School.
The Special Education Preschool annually serves up to 90 children who have a moderate to severe disability, and all disabilities are served in the same program whether the child is autistic, deaf, blind, orthopedically impaired, speech impaired or has any other disability. All the services are offered at no charge, and busing is also available.
“It’s a lifeline for parents,” says longtime teacher Jane Curtan. “They don’t know what to do and at first they are nervous because they don’t want their child to have a special need. But, once their child is ready to graduate, they don’t want them to leave.”
Curtan has been teaching at the school for 20 years, and this will be her final year. Her retirement will start at the end of this school year.
“I will miss the kids,” she said. “And the staff, many of them have been here since it opened. It’s a dream team with excellently trained aides and staffers. It will be hard to let it go I have been here so long.”
Curtan works alongside two other credentialed teachers as well as nine instructional aides and a speech therapist.
“We also receive services from the adapted PE teacher, deaf and hard of hearing specialist, vision specialist, occupational therapist, physical therapist and district psychologist,” she said. “The district is so good about meeting our needs.”
Together, the team provides each child with an array of necessary skills. Their day consists of speech, physical education, academic instruction, recess, choice time, working with fine motor skills, play skills and snack time.
“Snack time is essential,” said Curtan. “It’s a big time for them to communicate so they can get what they want. Same with recess. We teach them to stick up for themselves and use their voice so they are ready for the ‘real’ world if someone doesn’t treat them right.”
The students also do several walking field trips and they get together with students from the Children’s Congregational Center across the street to play, which is an opportunity to be mainstreamed with children who don’t have disabilities.
“We continue to grow,” said Curtan. “When we started there were only nine students, the next year there were 45 and now 90. There are no limits. We can take as many kids as Ramona has. In fact, a lot of people move to Ramona because they hear about the program.”
Recently, the center had renovations done by Ramona Children’s Charity.
“We have the full Cadillac now,” Curtan said enthusiastically. “We have storage, a washer and dryer, a full kitchen, rubber floors for our PE area, custom cabinets. It’s amazing.”
In addition to the upgrades, Ramona Children’s Charity also provides support for the program yearly in the form of funds to purchase needed materials.
The Special Education Preschool encourarges parents or others in the community who have a preschooler that they are concerned about to call and request testing at 760-787-4425. All services are provided through the district at no charge to the recipients.