Schools working to take more students with special needs

While programs for students such as Zach are rare, Christian schools say they are making strides in providing education to children with other needs, such as learning disabilities or mild forms of autism.

Still, it’s at a relatively slow pace.

“You’ll find in the Christian schools, they’re just trying to start to accommodate children with learning disabilities,” said Mary McElroy, principal of the North Sound Christian School Lynnwood campus.

The 25-year education veteran, who studied learning disabilities for her master’s degree, often speaks at Christian school conferences and advises educators on how to help children who struggle academically.

The solutions are simple, she said. It just takes some extra training for the teacher on ways to meet children’s different learning styles.

From there, schools can get more creative.

The North Sound school two years ago added a program called Balametrics with the help of a $27,000 grant.

Students step onto boards fitted with rockers and balance as they perform different tasks, such as throwing bean bags at targets.

“All of it develops their mind as they balance their body,” McElroy said.

The program particularly helps students who struggle with reading assignments. Students’ concentration, memory and behavior also have improved.

Several Snohomish and Island county private schools have teachers trained by the National Institute of Learning Disabilities, a program that targets students’ learning needs early and helps them with basic skills.

“We felt these kids needed help, too. Not just ‘come to school and sink or swim,’” said Melissa Knapp, who has coordinated Monroe Christian School’s therapy program for five years.

Knapp helps 17 students from kindergarten to eighth grade with a variety of needs, including reading, writing and math problems, attention issues, auditory processing disorders, and developmental delays.

Students attend their regular classes and are pulled out twice a week for special therapy sessions.

The school was ready to accommodate a girl with Down syndrome through the program. But the child’s family chose to go with the services offered at a local public school instead.

“We’ve been pretty open about that. But we want to make sure they can function in the classroom without a special aide, and that’s because we don’t have the staffing to do that,” Knapp said.

Reporter Melissa Slager: 425-339-3465 or

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