By Wendi Shearer
St. Richard’s Special Kids program
Our lovely Catholic school, St. Richard, has always had lofty academic and service goals for our students. In fact, the Sisters of Mercy who were inspired by the life of Jesus and by founder Catherine McAuley founded it in 1953. The Sisters envision a just world for people who are poor, sick and uneducated. They are women of faith who commit their lives to God to serve, advocate and pray for those in need around the world.
One of the many ways they have served their mission was to build St. Richard with the goal of teaching our students academic excellence and learning through faith. While we no longer have nuns teaching at our school, their vision lives on. One of the most impactful examples of this is our Special Kids Program.
In 1979, a frustrated parent shared a desire with Father Patrick Farrell for her son who had special needs to receive the same excellent education as her other son who did not have those needs. This one conversation put into motion a movement within the St. Richard community to make it possible for the school to serve not only those children who were gifted or on track academically, but also those who needed more resources in order to receive the same education as their classmates.
While the Special Kids program continues the mission of the Sisters of Mercy and provides a way to serve those who have needs which differ from mainstream students, there has been an added benefit which might not have been foreseen when this program began — creating an environment which promotes diversity of learning.
“One of the reasons I love our school is the focus we place on culture diversity for our students,” says Jennifer David, principal of Saint Richard. “Not only race and gender diversity, but also learning diversity. Students who have been accepted into Duke TIP, a national gifted education program based at Duke University, work alongside students who need structured support to learn. This time spent learning together removes any preconceived ideas associated with students who may be different from them and provides an environment of empathy and support from a young age. Our students learn that everyone can contribute, and learning is dynamic. They work together toward a common goal and in the process, they learn that the world is made up of all kinds of people, not just those who look, sound and learn like them.”
Maureen Smith, a St. Richard parishioner and parent of a fifth-grader, feels strongly that the Special Kids Program and the culture it creates is making a difference in the way her daughter will one day contribute to her community. “Part of why we decided on St. Richard is the inclusion of the special kids in the academic space. People have different learning styles — some kids are visual learners, others have to stand up and move around while they learn, still others have to write things down to remember them — but they are all learning, and they can share their strengths and shore up one another’s weaknesses. My child can learn as much from her classmates as she can teach them.”
Smith continues, “The school recognizes that each learning style can have tremendous benefit to others. For example, a child who is receiving dyslexia therapy can still participate in the Kaleidoscope gifted program because that student has insight to share with her classmates. This ability to move around in their own space helps children at St. Richard build a solid academic foundation. I hope and believe growing up in this culture will translate into her being a more inclusive adult with a heart for service.”
If you’d like to see the Special Kids Program in action at St. Richard, reach out to Wendi Shearer at Wshearer@strichardschool.org or call 601.366.1157.
The Special Kids Golf Tournament, the signature fundraiser for the Special Kids Program, is in its 37th year and will be held on October 4th. For more information or to contribute, visit http://bit.ly/SKgolf2018.
Wendi Shearer is the development director at St. Richard Catholic School. She is married to Jason Shearer and has two boys, Alan, 11 and Jake, 8, who attend St. Richard. When she isn’t watching her boys play sports, she enjoys riding and racing bikes.