January 28, 2005

2005 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Nativity special education teacher earns
state award for excellence

By Mary Ann Wyand

“Faith in Every Student,” the motto for Catholic Schools Week this year, could also be the motto for Nativity School in Indianapolis, where special-education students receive expert tutoring from Rose Haltom, who was named Teacher of the Year on Dec. 3 by the Learning Disabilities Association of Indiana.

Haltom said about 40 Nativity students participate in special-education classes on a daily basis and other students receive inclusion assistance to support various curriculum needs or Title I remediation after school to strengthen reading skills.

Peg Dispenzieri, Nativity’s principal, said she is pleased that the Indianapolis South Deanery school is able to provide a Catholic education for special-needs

“I think it’s incredibly important that we’re able to offer parents who have children who may have learning disabilities the opportunity to come to this school,” Dispenzieri said, “and to offer them a good quality Catholic education, especially knowing that Rose [Haltom] is so qualified and has so much experience. She is a huge asset to this school.”

Dispenzieri said there are children attending Nativity School now whose parents were also taught by Haltom.

“The parents know what great work she does,” the principal said. “I’m so proud of Rose. She started this program years ago with a handful of students as a part-time science teacher and part-time resource teacher. She’s been a full-time resource teacher here for several years. We’ve grown from serving a handful of students [with learning disabilities] to helping 40 students on a daily basis. Our goal is to keep growing that program so we can reach an even wider range of students.”

This year, the principal said, 330 students are enrolled at Nativity School and she expects enrollment to continue to grow steadily in coming years.

“Franklin Township continues to grow,” Dispenzieri said. “Nativity School continues to grow, and we’re looking forward to great things by offering a full range of educational services with this [special-needs] program.”

Haltom earned a master’s degree and endorsement in special education then started teaching at archdiocesan schools in 1976, first at Little Flower School in Indianapolis. In 1981, she accepted a full-time position at Nativity School as a fifth-grade teacher.

“My heart has always been in special education,” Haltom said. “I’ve always attended Orton and Learning Disability Association conferences and workshops, and used that [training] in my teaching.”

Before Haltom joined the Nativity faculty 23 years ago, special-needs students in the parish attended resource classes at St. Mark School in Indianapolis.

“Our former principal decided to offer a half day of resource classes in 1981,” Haltom said. “Our numbers grew, and our school has tripled in size. We’ve added two wings.”

Haltom said she works hard to reach students with different learning styles by teaching hands-on science lessons without using the textbook.

“I thought that was the best way to teach the students and reach the learning-disabled kids,” she said. “Most of my students are dyslexic or have auditory processing problems. Students with dyslexia have a great struggle with reading. Students with auditory processing problems can read, but can’t tell you what they’ve read or understand [spoken] instructions. They can spell words and can read, but they don’t have a clue what you’ve said. They learn visually. It’s like being in a foreign airport.”

Haltom said teaching special-education students is an enjoyable and rewarding educational ministry.

“Two of my fourth-grade girls got on the high honor roll and were thrilled,” she said. “They just shine now.”

She was especially pleased to receive a thank you card decorated with a rainbow from a third-grade boy who can’t read or spell yet so she reads his tests to him.

“He wrote this card to me to thank me for helping him,” she said. “His mom said he never does that. When you make a breakthrough, it’s amazing.”

The card reads, “Thank you Mrs. Haltom for helping me in reading on tests.”

The state teaching award is wonderful, she said, but the card means much more.

“If I get the children identified early as first-graders, I have them in resource classes all the way through eighth-grade,” Haltom said. “They need connectedness so I’m kind of their bridge. I talk with their teacher at the beginning of the year, and explain that this is what [the student] needs, this is what we have tried and this [learning style] is what works with him.”

Haltom said she is proud of three special-needs students who couldn’t read as fifth-graders but can read the literature book with their eighth-grade class.

“I give them all their oral tests and also do spelling each day,” she said. “I see them quite a lot because I’m in their language arts class, their reading class and I help them learn spelling words. So we have a connectedness. They know their strengths now. We’ve bonded together and have become kind of a family.”

Haltom said one eighth-grade student with auditory processing problems told another eighth-grade student with dyslexia that, “If you and I could just get our brains together, I could read it for you and you could tell me what I read.”

Resource classes give special-needs students hope for the future and confidence in their newfound abilities, Haltom said. “The parents are so relieved because I’m here, and they know that they don’t have to start each school year by telling the new teacher about their child’s special needs. I save a lot of hardship for the students, and that’s very rewarding. They feel very good about themselves.”

She works with parents and teachers to ensure that each child makes progress.

“It makes you feel great that you can help them,” she said. “They already know what they can’t do so my job is to teach them what they can do, to show them how to do it well and to compensate for what they don’t know how to do.”

Eighth-grader Stephanie Pfeiffer has taken resource classes for help with reading and spelling for four years.

“We’re all very proud of her,” Stephanie said about her teacher’s state award for excellence in education.

“She’s accomplished a lot with many of us,” Stephanie said. “[Resource class] is a lot of fun. We have a lot of laughs.”

Eighth-grader Kevin Banich has participated in resource classes for a year and a half to improve his reading comprehension.

“It made me a lot smarter,” Kevin said. “I came from a second-grade reading level up to just about an eighth-grade reading level in a matter of a couple of months. I got better and better [at reading], and started liking it more. [I learned] to work hard. Things might seem tough in the beginning, but with help and support you can get through anything.” †


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