Education feature: Program provides ‘special’ education

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Arts Academy at Bella Vista special education teacher Jennifer Wines uses the Picture Exchange Communication System to communicate with her autistic student.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

People tell Jennifer Wines it takes a special teacher for special education.

She agrees.

“I don’t know what it is. I don’t think everyone can be a general education teacher or that everyone can be a special education teacher,” Wines said. “It’s love.”

Wines is a special education teacher at the Arts Academy at Bella Vista. She teaches level four students, which means her students are in a self-contained setting all day. Level one students attend a regular classroom and are monitored.

Wines has one autistic student in her class of five and says it is a learning experience.

The student is non-verbal so Wines uses the Picture Exchange Communication System to communicate with him. The system incorporates a book of pictures the teacher or student brings to the other’s attention to communicate.

“I didn’t know this before,” Wines said. “I’m learning everyday.”

There are 25 autistic students enrolled in Clovis Municipal Schools, from preschool to high school, according to Dave Loadwick, assistant director of student support services.

Loadwick said special education teachers and staff are trained to teach an autistic student as the need arises at each school. Teachers are assisted by a behavior and autism specialist, Dr. Janet Butz.

Butz works for the consulting firm Collaborative Autism Resources and Education. Butz’s $74,000 annual salary and the special education department are paid for with federal money from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Wines said Butz observes her working with the autistic student in the classroom once a month and offers advice. Wines said the feedback and input from the report helps her navigate a new world.

“Teaching these kiddos is not something you learn in college or through reading a book,” Wines said. “It has been an eye-opening experience. I’ve enjoyed every minutes of it and I’ve learned so much.”

Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm said Dr. Butz works with teachers and parents and helps both learn how to help the child.