We're a school like any other school.”CDC Principal Chris Chambers
CULLMAN – There are folks who think the Cullman County Child Development Center (CDC) is a daycare facility, but it is far from that. The Tribune sat down with CDC Principal Chris Chambers to find out more.
He said, "We're not a daycare. We're a school like any other school. We're a stand-alone school for special-needs kids."
CDC is a school for students with special needs from preschool to age 21. A fluctuating body of approximately 120-130 students with physical or intellectual disabilities is served at any given time by a staff of 72 under Chambers’ supervision: teachers, aides, various therapists, nutritionists, bus drivers and bus aides, and custodial/maintenance workers.
The principal spends his time performing a balancing act, bringing together those numerous resources to create an individual educational plan custom fitted to each student.
Chambers said, "All those people have to collaborate. I always say that's probably one of our biggest strengths: how many personal conversations we have about a child and meeting their needs- not just physical, but their overall well-being, knowing their culture at home, really being involved with their day-to-day needs, even their nutrition. My parents go above and beyond about trying to communicate with the teachers, and the teachers do the same thing with them."
CDC offers its students a wide range of activities, both in the classroom and out. Students arrive each morning on the bus, eat breakfast together, then go to class. They go to the school's library and gym, and eat lunch together. In the classroom, students are grouped with others who have similar abilities and needs, and engage in a spectrum of learning activities tailored to their needs. While they try to create certain routines, the staff places individual student needs above those routines; so, there's no really "typical" day.
A student activities director plans special on- and off-campus events for the kids. All classrooms have wi-fi, and Librarian Andrea Radcliffe brings a cart of iPads around to classrooms. There's even an active arts and music program.
Chambers shared, "We have a grant we won two years in a row through the Alabama Art Alliance, and Mr. Krel Buckelew is our art and music instructor. We have it two days a week, and every student on campus gets art and music instruction. It gives them an outlet, behavior-wise. We've seen our attendance go up, and bad behavior go down. Some kids get overly stimulated when we have functions out in the gym or if we go on a field trip. We've seen those kids actually be able to cope better, and I attribute part of that to our music and arts program."
Student artwork lines the school's hallways, and the performers in the student body will get the chance near the end of the school year to take part in West Point High School's performing arts spring showcase under the direction of West Point’s band director, Ty Parker.
For some of CDC's intellectually and medically challenged students, graduation is a real possibility. According to Chambers, "Our goal is to transition those kids out. If they can ever be successful in a typical classroom, we want them to go out and be with typical peers."
CDC has transitioned 43 students into regular classrooms over the last few years, and only four of those ended up back at the school. Some of those successfully-transitioned students have received high school diplomas.
The constant pressure of offering a multi-tasked approach to meet so many needs of so many students takes a tremendous toll on the faculty and staff, and their principal and selected helpers strive to recognize and respond to the need for support and encouragement.
Said Chambers, "You leave here mentally, physically and sometimes spiritually exhausted at times, so we do special things for the faculty as well. We have a faculty feast: we all get together and eat, and get together to do fun things. It's a monthly thing; we call it CDC Family. I've got a faculty committee chairperson. She looks for things to keep us together. We're in constant need of support, and we need for people to know who we are and what we're about, about the service the people provide here every day. It's tough being here, working with so many kids that have so many different needs, but it's also very rewarding at the same time."
The CDC is located at 17600 Highway 31 N in Cullman and can be reached at 256-739-0486. Find out more about CDC, visit http://cdc.ccboe.org.
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