AfterWords July 2007
The learning that begins after the bell!
The National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning
featured resource

The Afterschool Corporation
Including Students With Special Needs in
After-school Programs (link no longer available - 2013)

Kids Included Together

U.S. Department of Education
Help Students With Disabilities


Including Everyone: Helping Special-Needs Students Participate in Afterschool

With nearly 13% of youth ages 5 to 15 meeting the federal Maternal and Child Health definition of children with special health-care needs, you most likely have at least one special- needs student in your afterschool program. “Special needs” is a broad category that can include everything from autism to cerebral palsy to dyslexia to attention deficit disorder. Mary McAllister Shea, vice president of organizational outreach at Kids Included Together, a nonprofit that provides training to help community-based organizations include children with disabilities in their programs, offers some strategies for including special-needs students in afterschool programs.
Get all of the players involved. Shea suggests having a meeting with parents, day school teachers, special education teachers, and other staff who work with the student. Both teachers and staff from the regular school day can suggest strategies that work with a specific student and also let you know what areas the child excels in.

Prioritize your needs. If you have limited experience working with special-needs students, integrating them into your program can feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Think about what you need the most—training, additional staffing, technical support, supervision, or access to resources—and then pursue what you identify as the most important.

Support your staff. With the proper training and guidance, most staff can work successfully with special-needs students. This might mean bringing in a special education instructor or another specialist for training, but it will empower your staff and give you more flexibility in your program.

Include students in as many activities as possible. “Even if a special-needs student is doing a modified lesson or has a staff person assigned to him or her, that child will learn the most by working with peers. You will also create an environment where students are eager to work together regardless of ability,” says Shea.

1 Shea, M. (2007, July). July 2007: A time for reflection and commitment. School-Age Notes, 27(11), 1, 6.

�Special needs� is a broad category that can include autism, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, and attention deficit disorder.

What is the National Partnership of Quality Afterschool Learning?

The National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning helps state education agencies and local practitioners develop high-quality programs for academic achievement as well as youth development activities.

Tallahassee, Florida

We use the community as one of our learning environments and do as much as possible to integrate our students into the community. A quote from Pam Jameson, a site coordinator

The SMILE (Students Motivated in Learning at Everhart) afterschool program in Tallahassee, Florida, is showing that there are no limits to what students can do. SMILE is a 21st Century Community Learning Center program that serves students with moderate to severe mental disabilities, many of whom have physical disabilities as well.

Pam Jameson, site coordinator at SMILE, acknowledges that the program is unique because special-needs students constitute the majority of the program’s participants. She is quick to point out, however, that her program uses strategies that all afterschool programs can use with special-needs students. “We see possibilities of what every child can do rather than focusing on limitations,” she says.

Jameson also says that the program operates with the belief that all of its staff can work with special-needs students. Although many instructors have training or certification to teach special-needs students, others learn by working with these qualified staff members. Through agreements with colleges, SMILE also recruits trained volunteers who are majoring in special education and want on-the-job practice. The program has several partnerships with community organizations, including the Boy Scouts and a hands-on science program called High Touch High Tech Science.

In Your Words

To participate in this survey and view results, submit your vote now.

We think interest in afterschool is growing! How many students do you expect to have in your afterschool program compared to last year? (Select one.)

Events Calendar
Oct. 18

Lights on Afterschool!

Oct. 20

The Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence 2007 Afterschool Conference

Oct. 22–23

The Bridge from School to Afterschool and Back: Northwest Regional Training Event
Vancouver, wa

Technology Tip

Students on the Job

A special-needs student can have more opportunities to participate in afterschool activities if he or she is paired with another student. Even the simple process of pairing students can provide learning opportunities. In one afterschool program the National Partnership visited, a visually impaired student interviewed and selected the students to assist her in navigating the afterschool program. The experience helped integrate the visually impaired student into the class and encouraged other students to take the role of helping a classmate more seriously.

Do you have a training tip you would like to share? E-mail us at with “training tip” in the subject line.

Questions or comments should be directed to:

Laura Shankland
Phone: 800-476-6861 ext. 237
Fax: 512-476-2286

Copyright © 2007 by SEDL . This newsletter was produced in whole or in part with funds from the U.S. Department of Education under contract number ED-01-CO-0057/0001.

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National Partnership For Quality Afterschool Learning at SEDL