NEW HANOVER COUNTY -- New Hanover County schools are trying to expand instruction for special education students. They're integrating these kids into regular classroom settings, hoping the interaction will raise them to the next level. Right now, there are about 3,000 special education students in the county and administrators hope to mainstream the majority of them. Skylar Kimber is a third grader at Bradley Creek Elementary. Skylar has autism and for years teachers have worked with him closely in the classroom. This year, they're trying something new. Special education teacher Cynthia Cavileer says Skylar, along with about a dozen other students, has been mainstreamed -- placed in a large classroom setting. For part of the day he's exposed to a regular school environment and curriculum and still gets his fill of small group instruction for the remainder of the day. Teachers say the mix can be incredibly beneficial for students. "Once they connect or bond with one or two children in the room, they feel a sense of home and they want to keep going back to that teacher or that classroom," Cavileer said. Cavileer says a sense of camaraderie in the mainstreaming process is important for social and academic development, especially for those with severe learning disabilities, like ADHD and autism. Skylar has practiced mainstreaming for six and a half months and teachers say they're seeing progress. Teacher Paul Slovik "He started the year off, not interacting with his peers a lot. Now he's showing signs of having a lot of friends and coming in and getting to work He's really come a long way socially. And academically, he feels much more comfortable than he did at the beginning of the year." Skylar has already been held back a year. But with support from teachers and newfound confidence from his group interactions, teachers say Skylar is well prepared to enter fourth grade in the fall. Administrators say they plan on mainstreaming more special education students next school year. They say the goal is to allow as many of these kids to excel in a normal classroom setting as possible.
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