Eleven-year-old Bradley is an "A" and "B" student and a starting player on the basketball team of St. Peter Lutheran School in Eastpointe. He is also among the 11 percent of Michigan school children who have special learning needs.
Fortunately for Bradley and his parents, St. Peter takes part in Lutheran Special Education Ministries (LSEM), a 126-year-old nonprofit organization that equips Christian schools to help handicapped and learning disabled children like Bradley achieve their full academic potential. Nearly 120,000 students are diagnosed with special learning needs each year and an estimated 2.6 million American children were classified as learning disabled in 1996.
LSEM, founded in Royal Oak in 1873, sends special education professionals to 29 partner schools in Lansing, Monroe, Hemlock, and metropolitan Detroit to assist children with a variety of special learning needs, including students with reading or mathematical reasoning disorders. An additional 56 schools in Illinois, Indiana, and New York use LSEM's services and, later this year, LSEM will further expand its network to include schools in Minnesota, California, and Arizona.
In Michigan, 13 full-time and 6 part-time state-certified LSEM teachers are currently providing special education services to schools and congregations. LSEM teacher Kay Ramsey works with 19 students with special learning needs during her teaching day at Trinity Lutheran School in Clinton Township. Her expertise helps not only her students, but also other teachers at the school.
"Even though I've been teaching for 20 years, I don't always know what needs to be done for children with special learning needs," says Carla Neimeier, a first-grade teacher at Trinity. "I get support and guidance from Kay. Without LSEM, it would be very difficult for me to serve the needs of all of my students."
Trinity Principal Warren Opel, a 23-year veteran of the public schools, is also pleased with the special education support his school receives from LSEM. Trinity accepts all students regardless of their academic ability, so the school greatly benefits from LSEM's resources and expertise, he said.
"We are not selective, nor do we screen out particular children," Opel says. "However, our ability to meet the needs of every child is limited. Without the commitment and assistance of LSEM, it would be difficult for us to educate children with special learning needs."
Across town, Bethany Lutheran School, with a 95 percent African-American student population, is also part of the LSEM network. Principal Mary Johnson is grateful for LSEM teacher Judy Hawkins, who has served Bethany's special education children for the past five years.
"So many children have blossomed as a result of Mrs. Hawkins," says Johnson. "She has helped children who struggle in the regular classroom find success in the resource room."
Hawkins and her resource room of special learning materials offer many students needed help that often is not available to them elsewhere. One student, 10-year-old Christian, has difficulty learning when he is in a large classroom. He did not qualify as a special education student in his Detroit public school but he now receives the personalized instruction he needs through Hawkins and Bethany.
Hawkins, a public school teacher for 10 years, is pleased to be helping children through the LSEM network. "I have been invited to return to the public schools where I could earn more money and work fewer hours," she says. "But those benefits are not what motivate me. As a professional, I am better supported by Bethany and LSEM."
Providing special education services is expensive. The total cost to LSEM of providing a full-time resource room in a school like Trinityincluding covering the costs of teacher salary, special textbooks and other educational materialsis $52,000 this school year. The school pays about $26,000 in fees to LSEM and parents pay only $100 in fees to Trinity. The remaining $26,000 is funded by LSEM, which receives 65 percent of its budget from charitable donations. LSEM receives no financial support from either the government or the Lutheran church body.
General tuition at Trinity also remains affordable for many families. The annual cost to educate a child at Trinity is roughly $2,700; however, members of the church's congregation pay only about $850, while nonmembers pay only $2,250. The difference is covered by the individual church congregations.
LSEM sees its mission as about more than just academics, according to Roger DeMeyere, the organization's president and CEO. "Our purpose as a ministry is to enable children with special learning needs to receive a Christian education," he says. "We reach out to the children wherever they may be to help them know Jesus and prepare for productive lives."
A 71-page study, Do Private Schools Serve Difficult-to-Educate Students?, contains analysis and Michigan case studies. It is available at no charge via the Internet at www.mackinac.org/article.asp?ID=361 .