My Practicum Reflection: John Kackmeister

I had the opportunity to work at the Billings Educational Academy for a few days for my practicum. The students at this school are exceptional in many ways and the teaching environment is different from that of a standard public school in many ways allowing the students to reach their potential in a stress free environment.

At first glance walking into the Billings Educational Academy you might not guess that you have walked into a school setting at all. Upon enter the front door there is a commons room that looks like a living room from a home that you might visit one of your friends at. I must make a reflective comment that the director of the school would appreciate, "make sure you remove your shoes when entering." The kitchen is set up like you would expect of a typical house. The students also have a miniature zoo with some animals that they are assigned to care for. Along with the zoo students are expected to complete chores that keep the school clean and organized such as cleaning up after themselves in the kitchen after lunch and vacuuming at the end of the day. To reinforce the student's active participation and behavior a punishment might be doing the rest of the student's chores for the day, kind of like the "real" world. The feeling I received when walking into this environment for the first time was comfort. The whole purpose of this environment is to allow students with disabilities the opportunities to learn practical knowledge that they will need in the "real" world along with classes helping them work towards a GED in an atmosphere they feel comfortable in.

I mainly worked with two students that were both 8 years old and I was surprised while working with them that they knew things that I didn't. The first task that I worked on was studying Greek with a student of eight. I was thinking to myself as he recited the alphabet that I couldn't do this and here is an eight year old that I am told has special needs and I am not seeing anything but enthusiasm and progress while he works on a subject that even as a teacher in training I am not able to help him with because I don't know anything about it. I also volunteered on a special day in which the students had their independent projects due. What this means is that these students were expected to present to the class and their parents a presentation that they chose the topic for, researched, and planned themselves. While watching and sometimes participating in these presentations I met a student with Asperger syndrome that gave a presentation on fossils and he had actually gone to the Priors and found fossil remains to bring to show during his presentation. Not only did he find them and realize they were fossils but he had gone to a museum and had the checked to make sure that they were indeed fossils.

I know college students that do not have the ambition this child showed and struggle with presentations on a daily basis and here these kids are presenting without a hitch. Throughout the day the two boys and I worked on other topics such as Geography and English and I was still amazed at the potential that I saw from these students. I guess what I am getting at is I am not seeing kids with disabilities but children that excel even while having to overcome obstacles that their peers at other schools will never understand. One reason that these students excel at the Billings Educational Academy is the environment that I already mentioned and is also due to the interaction between a staff of volunteer teachers that love their job and a student to teacher ratio of about 1:1.

My overall reaction to this experience is amazement. I have a younger brother that has multiple disabilities that is beyond school aged now but would have excelled and had a more fulfilled life and become more responsible if he had been educated in a school like the Billings Educational Academy. For the sake of students with disabilities I hope that there become more schools that meet their demands in a nurturing environment soon, because this experience opened my eyes to an alternative method that works.