RENSSELAER — Rensselaer has become the headquarters of Cooperative School Services.
It’s a place where people work day in and day out to help students with special needs in nine districts that surround Rensselaer. It provides services to Benton Community, Frontier, Kankakee Valley, North Newton, North White, Rensselaer Central, South Newton, Tri-County, and West Central.
The objective is to provide specialized services that schools may need, such as speech therapy, psychology services, occupation therapy, and various other services for students with physical handicaps, developmental disabilities, emotional disorders, or learning disabilities.
Cooperative School Services began in 1969 and today serves 2,200 students, preschool through grade 12, within the nine school corporations.
The executive board consists of the superintendents of the nine school corporations.
“We are one of the larger co-ops in the state,” said Patricia Kem, director of special education. “In terms of square miles, certainly not in population, but we are very lucky to have a group of superintendents that work together for the benefit of the students.
“It is an important part of our community. As children age in and out of school, they will need supports that we are able to give them. This year the co-op is turning 50. It is so wonderful that we have been able to help our kids for so many years and so many more to follow.”
It offers cooperative, or joint, classes for students who can’t get the specialized assistance that they need from their local school districts. The co-op works to set up programs that will service the students at one or sometimes two districts.
One is called life skills, which has more involvement with disabilities, intellectual, communication and mobility issues. Not every school will have enough kids in terms of population of students to fill those classes, Kem said.
“Because of this we have certain schools become hosts for these classes and we provide transportation from one district to that class,” she said. “It helps us utilize our resources in a cost-effective way.”
The second is the Levels program for students who have significant behavioral or emotional disabilities or concerns. Levels is an extremely structured program. It has three or more adults in each class, including counselors from Valley Oaks and Four-County.
The Levels program has five levels and students can “level out.” When that happens, they will return to their local general education class rooms.
“There are kids that go quickly through those levels and some kids continue to struggle and they need a level of support,” Kem said. “The co-op is an important part of our school districts and I have been very lucky to work with a group of people who really want to do what is right for the students.”