St. Margaret of Castello grant will help Divine Child High School serve students with developmental disabilities

By Jamesena Ingram, Director of Instructional Support Services, Divine Child High School

“Inclusion is not bringing people into what already exists, it is making a new space, a better space for everyone.”

We heard this quote while speaking about inclusive education with another Catholic high school, and it sparked an idea. What if Divine Child High School created a new space, a better space for those who have historically not had access to a strong Catholic education?

More than 10 years ago, we developed and launched our Instructional Support Program to offer students with diagnosed learning differences (ADHD, dyslexia, etc.) the opportunity to receive a strong Catholic education, regardless of their learning differences. Today, we have more than 100 students in our program, which has become a destination for these students and their families.

However, the program still had its limitations. While we were equipped to serve most students with learning differences, we were still unable to properly serve those with more significant differences, including students with developmental disabilities such as Down Syndrome and certain levels of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

With the help of the Catholic Foundation of Michigan’s St. Margaret of Castello grant, however, this will no longer be the case. Thanks to this grant, DCHS will open its doors to students with more significant learning differences. Our spark is now on its way to becoming a reality.

Partnering for Potential

The building blocks are already being put in place for our new program. In August, we developed the “Partnering for Potential” program, which equips current DCHS students to partner with students with more significant learning disabilities in order to welcome and immerse them into our student body.

Student leaders enroll in Partnering for Potential to support these students throughout the school day, shadowing partners in an academic class period, modeling age-appropriate academic and social behavior, guiding academic intervention, and promoting improved outcomes in the areas of independence and socialization. This partner support is an evidence-based practice proven effective in increasing opportunities for students with significant learning differences to access general education settings and curricula.

While Partnering for Potential primarily takes place in the classroom, partnership activities may extend to nonacademic settings and after-school activities. Divine Child Principal, Anthony Trudel, said the role of student partners increases engagement in the school community and builds friendships that extend beyond the brick and mortar of the school building. “This groundbreaking program will not only enrich the lives of students with significant learning differences and their families, but it will develop all participating students for lives of responsibility, leadership, and faith in action,” he said.

An Important Mission

Father Bob McCabe with Jim Keyes at the Grant Awards Breakfast 2023.

As we lay the groundwork for this new program, we look forward to what lies ahead. Our new students will ultimately have their own dedicated space and work with a dedicated teacher who is trained and experienced in working with students with significant learning differences. In addition to immersion into the classroom, these students will also learn life skills, receive job coaching, and receive specialized instruction.

Divine Child Pastor Fr. Bob McCabe said he is excited that DCHS will continue to be a guiding light when it comes to inclusive Catholic education, and he is grateful for CFM’s support through the Spirit of Innovation grant.

“We are so thankful for the generosity of the Catholic Foundation of Michigan, the St. Margaret of Castello Fund, and all those who are collaborating with us on this journey,” Fr. McCabe said. “As Pope Francis said, ‘the mission of schools is to develop a sense of truth, of what is good and beautiful.’ This grant, and this program, helps us achieve this important mission.”

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