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Blount County Schools Give Students a Smart Start

Blount County's schools and community organizations ensure that special needs students succeed. 

By Teree Caruthers on November 18, 2022

Clayton-Bradley Academy in Blount County, TN.
Stephen Nelson/Clayton-Bradley Academy

Diversity and inclusion are hallmarks of Blount County’s educational system, ensuring all students are on a path to success in both school and life. Students and young adults with developmental and intellectual delays and other disabilities can receive a wide range of services through Blount County, Alcoa and Maryville City school districts, as well as from local nonprofits, such as The Gate and Community Options.

“We are really passionate in our department about seeing all students succeed — and success may be defined differently for each student. We really believe that it is our great opportunity to impact students at a high level through teaching and learning, through meeting them where they are and through partnering with families because it’s a sometimes unique journey,” says April Herron, supervisor of special education for Blount County Schools. “We just want to be a great teammate to families, and our biggest goal is to support those students and their families and the dreams that they have for their children after graduation.”

Staff and students of The Gate in Blount County pose for a photo.
Gate Staff

Where Every Student Succeeds

Even before children become school-age, all three school districts offer free disability screening for families. Blount County Schools’ Child Find program evaluates children ages 3 to 5 for developmental disabilities, including hearing, vision, speech and language, cognition and academic readiness, fine and gross motor skills, and self-help and adaptive skills.

After students enter school, Herron says Blount County Schools offers academic intervention in subject areas such as reading and math, available to all students. The school system also provides speech therapy, language services, behavioral services, and occupational and physical therapy.

“Our job is to provide individualized services for the child, and those services may be within the classroom or in a pullout service,” she says.

“We just want to be a great teammate to families, and our biggest goal is to support those students and their families and the dreams that they have for their children after graduation.”

April Herron, Blount County Schools

The crown jewel of the school district’s many services is Project SEARCH, which pairs students with intellectual and developmental disabilities who graduated from William Blount and Heritage high schools with jobs in the community. The program — a partnership between the school system and Maryville College — helps students at the end of their school career transition to life after high school and also helps local businesses explore more options for expanding their workforce.

“Students spend some time in the classroom where they learn important life skills, such as budgeting. Then on the job, they learn how to be a good employee, and they learn how to advocate for themselves,” Herron says.

Students participate in The GATE special olympics in Blount County, TN.
Gate Staff

Teaching Independence

The GATE (Gateway to Independence) is a day program that began as a way to help graduated young adults with disabilities maintain the community and support they had built in the school system. Today, the program is open to adults of all ages and serves as a valuable socialization outlet.

“First and foremost, we’re a socialization program. We offer these adults an opportunity to build friendships, to maintain and hopefully develop some new skills,” says Stephanie Livigni, executive director of The GATE. “They’ve learned all these skills that the school districts have helped develop. Once they graduate from high school, if they don’t have these kinds of programs and they don’t have anything to do, they can start regressing.”

Community Options Inc. of Maryville is another Blount County organization that works to find meaningful employment for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The organization also operates three independent living houses in Maryville.

“We believe in giving people the dignity that every person deserves as well as the freedom to experience and live life to its fullest,” says Marie Roush, associate executive director of Community Options. “We believe in people being advocates for themselves, living the lives that they want to live, being independent, working and being integrated into their communities, just like everyone else. We want our clients meeting friends, developing relationships and having the natural support that comes from having those networks.”

Want to know more?

If you’d like to learn more about the Blount County, TN, area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Blount County, Tennessee

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