Carmel special education program celebrates 50 years of pioneering
By Maddie Yerant
Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. marched from Selma to Montgomery for the Civil Rights Movement. Lyndon B. Johnson took office as President. Julie Andrews won an Oscar for Mary Poppins. And the administration of College Wood Elementary in Carmel took the state’s first steps in modernizing special education – eight years before state law required it.
In 1965, the new, state-of-the-art College Wood Elementary opened off what now is Guilford Avenue. According to former principal Jim Moore, its cutting edge offerings included specific programs for special education students, a novel idea at the time.
“We saw way back, eight to 10 years before the state had provided some kind of service for these people, to pull them out of the classroom in a self-contained situation and then integrate them into as many programs as we could, like lunch and recess,” Moore said.
Rather than using the then-normal method of mainstreaming special needs students until they could drop out at age 16, Moore said College Wood set aside rooms and teachers specifically for those students while still giving them time with the rest of their classmates. These rooms included facilities such as a washer, dryer and kitchen.
“If they were stronger, maybe, in some subjects, we would have them go into an inclusive situation where they would be a part of the class and then go back to the security of being in a special ed room,” Moore said.
According to Paul Ash, who later served as State Director of Special Education with the Indiana Department of Education, these early pioneering efforts developed over time to become the services offered to all students with disabilities today in Hamilton County.
Moore, whose experience dates back to his own time as a student at the old Fishers High School in the ’40s, said the decision came out of what he calls “a lifetime of need.”
“It was just obvious that (the special needs students) would quit, and they couldn’t quit until they were 16, unless they were really physically handicapped or mentally handicapped, and then they would go into an institution,” Moore said.
It wasn’t always easy. According to Moore, College Wood had little, if any, experience or models on which to base the program.
“We just kind of flew by the seat of our pants, and when we knew kids had problems, we pulled them out,” he said. “I’m sure we made mistakes along the way.”
However, it’s thanks to Moore, former teacher Connie Hunt and former superintendent of Carmel Clay Schools Forest Stoops, College Wood opened doors for these students to have a brighter future.
Moore said the school served special needs students from other districts as well.
“They were coming from Fishers, from Westfield, from Sheridan and they bussed them in,” he said.
Despite a lack of options for the special needs students, Moore said other students were kind and helpful, even before the program began.
“That was the thing I think was neat, that none of the kids ever made fun,” Moore said. “I never had to deal with kids calling them dummies. Actually, they wanted to help them. At recess and so forth, they really wanted to help these kids, and they were aware of it.”
The program has, of course, evolved greatly over the years. Where once special needs students were often confined to homes and given few opportunities, now they receive their own their own individual education plan and services in the least restrictive environment possible, Ash said.
Carmel resident Doug Dolen is an example of the success of the early days of the program. He was one of the first students with a physical disability to be a part of College Wood’s innovative system.
Dolen graduated high school in 1979, and the education he received enabled him to work for the Carmel Clay school system for 20 years. He found a part-time job for Lane Sims at Carmel Drugs in high school as a part of a special work program.
Doug and his family give Moore, Hunt and Stoops all the credit.
“Those early years of classes designed to meet the specific need of each student, along with the encouragement he received, have been a major positive influence in Doug’s life,” said his parents, Lee and Margaret, in a statement.