St. John Regional Catholic School is now one of three schools in the local archdiocese to offer formalized special education.

The school opened the PRIDE program to grades three through six for the first time this fall, Principal Karen Smith said.

PRIDE, or Pupils Receiving Inclusive Diversified Education, was launched in 1994 by the Archdiocese of Baltimore to serve students with mild to moderate learning disabilities.

St. John, St. Clement Mary Hofbauer School in Rosedale and the St. Mark School in Catonsville are the only three of nearly 70 schools accredited by the archdiocese that use the program.

Most schools accommodate students with disabilities internally and on a case-by-case basis, Smith said. With PRIDE, St. John can now offer a more structured approach to special education.

"We're seeing more and more students that want to come to Catholic schools that have a learning disability," Smith said. "I felt we needed more support in meeting their needs."

Part of Catholic social teaching is to open the doors to people in need, she said.

"It's something we're called to do as a church."

Nine students are enrolled, and Smith said PRIDE has been "very positive, especially for students in the school who needed more accommodations than we were able to give without the program."

PRIDE teacher Joan D'Loughy said six students transferred to St. John Regional because of the new accommodations.

The school now offers smaller, separate language arts and math classes for its special-needs students, Smith said. Those children are given generous advance notice about tests, receive study guides and can take tests without a time limit.

"We're able to meet the children where they are in terms of their ability" with more individualized classes, D'Loughy said.

Special education students take science, social studies, religion and other courses with the general student body.

A special education coordinator from the archdiocese visits St. John each week, and teachers will attend a special education-related professional development program in November.

Third- through sixth-grade classes use PRIDE this year because they have the most special-needs students, and Smith said seventh grade will begin next year. The program may also extend to second-graders in 2014.

St. John Regional, which has 582 students this year, plans to hire another special education teacher as more grades in the prekindergarten to eighth-grade school are included.

"The parents whose children are in PRIDE are very, very happy," D'Loughy said. "I think (the students) know they're being successful and that makes them feel good about themselves."

Follow Rachel S. Karas on Twitter: @rachelkaras.

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