Parents are thanking the Walker County Board of Education for implementing a program for students with cognitive needs.Autum Hargett and Amanda Laster addressed the county board of education on Jan. …
Parents are thanking the Walker County Board of Education for implementing a program for students with cognitive needs.
Autum Hargett and Amanda Laster addressed the county board of education on Jan. 10 to discuss the PROPS (Positive Reinforcement Opportunities for Promising Students) program at Oakman Middle School that has changed the lives of their children.
The program is designed to provide students with autism and other communicative disorders an alternative learning environment filled with sensory equipment. At Oakman Middle, Rachel Taylor serves as the special education teacher in the PROPS classroom and is assisted by paraprofessionals.
The program began in late 2017, and Hargett said her daughter has been in the PROPS classroom for over one year.
"She has made leaps and bounds where no leap was thought to ever be made," Hargett read aloud from a prepared statement to the school board. "There was little hope she would ever be in a public school setting."
Hargett said therapists and other medical professionals could not help her daughter, who has autism. Another school system in the state said they didn't know how best to serve her, and that's when Hargett moved to Walker County and enrolled her daughter at Oakman Middle, where she could be in the PROPS learning environment.
She describes PROPS as a blessing and said it has changed the way her daughter is able to communicate.
Prior to PROPS, her daughter made little eye contact with others and avoided social interaction. There were times she would even pass out from anxiety attacks.
"The walls in my daughter's world have slowly broken down," Hargett said. "Everyone from the students to the faculty, to the assistant and head principal at Oakman, have shown my daughter that the world is a very accepting and loving place to be in and that fear should not be a part of her daily life."
Now her daughter has made friends and enjoys play, makes eye contact and completes classwork. Her daughter is also learning to use pictures as a way to communicate, rather than words.
"These were all the things that were never expected from my daughter by anyone and simply told that they just couldn't be achieved," she said. "The PROPS program has given her the ability to show the world that she is not just a file and not just a name. She is an amazing little girl who has an exceptionally large amount of potential, provided she's given the right tools ... and people in her life."
Laster said her son, too, has shown a great improvement in communication skills through the PROPS program.
"I've seen an outcome in this kid that I've never seen before. He has changed. He is loving and caring. He loves school, loves Mrs. Taylor," Laster said. "I'm just so blessed that this opportunity has come, and I hope you'll continue it on."
PROPS was originally made possible through a catastrophic funds allocation from the Alabama State Department of Education in the amount of $340,000.
"That program is absolutely amazing," Walker County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joel Hagood said. "There's a lot of educators in this room that know what they are able to do, and it is an amazing feat."