Bulloch County public school's "severe and profoundly" handicapped students are taught in a specially equipped classroom at the new Statesboro High School. The classroom is not hidden away in a separate building, but is located just off of the school commons area.
The decision to place the students where they would have daily contact with the regular student population is an example of the "never give up, never surrender" attitude of their primary teacher - Ginny Aldredge. "We're not ashamed of (any) students," she said, "and the students here are very kind."
Aldredge said: "We expect our students to improve each and every day. Although sometimes just not going backwards is a great improvement in itself." Her students' limitations include quadriplegia, autism and cystic fibroses.
Aldredge acts as teacher, nurse, mother and comedian, seemingly all at the same time. One minute she's talking to one student, cracking jokes, then checking on another student who has fallen asleep after lunch, and then reassuring another student hesitant about going to the computer lab.
She is not alone in her work: Each of her students has a dedicated paraprofessional.
One, Ruth Gay, has worked with Aldredge for 11 years, while another, Valerie Nottingham, is in her first year as part of the SHS program. Overseeing all of the Special Education programs at Statesboro High is Karen Cantini. She has nothing but praise for Aldredge.
"I've never seen her get stressed out or agitated and never seen her be short with any of her students, no matter how demanding they might be," Cantini said. "It's so wonderful to have found someone with the patience and tolerance to be able to work with this part of the student population."
While Aldredge appreciates the compliments, she doesn't view her job as different than other teachers.
"I have never understood why people think I'm doing such a hard job," she said. "In fact, I have the best job in the world. It's just like coming to a party every day. What's more, their parents are fabulous, and will do anything you want, no questions asked."
According to Statesboro principal Marty Waters, "Ginny sacrifices everything for her kids. She has a busy life with three children of her own, ages 10, 12, and 15, and yet treats her students as if they too were her own. That's very important, because the students may remain in her classroom for six years."
Waters states proudly that Aldredge, Gay and Nottingham are always busy planning special events. The class has cookouts, takes community field trips to the police department and elsewhere, and even plants a garden at the school. Local restaurants (Vandy's and Papa's Pizza) play host to the kids every now and then, as well.
Several local businesses also help out: East Georgia Regional Medical Center donated four state-of-the-art hospital beds, as most of their students can sit up only a short while. And Hodges Moore Funeral Home provides a driver and a limo every year on Prom Night so that Aldredge's students can be driven around town to see the sights before they get to the prom.
Aldredge said the students may not be able to eat the food or get up and dance at the prom, but they love listening to the music and many times ask to be spun around in their wheelchairs.
"Once they graduate, most of my students go home to live with their parents," she said. "This may be their one last fling before they go home, and by golly, if so, it's our job to make sure they get to do it in style."