Biddeford Public Schools has been awarded a grant of $531,000 by the Maine Department of Education for early intervention and  special education services for students ages 3 to 5.  FILE PHOTO

Biddeford Public Schools has been awarded a grant of $531,000 by the Maine Department of Education for early intervention and special education services for students ages 3 to 5. FILE PHOTO

BIDDEFORD — An EMBRACE grant of more than half-million dollars has been awarded by the Maine Department of Education to Biddeford Public Schools to help with the transition of special education services for children ages 3 to 5.

Biddeford Schools Superintendent Jeremy Ray said the $513,000 grant will allow the district in providing early intervention to children in need of services and an opportunity to work with kids and families at an earlier age.

The EMBRACE program was created to improve educational services and increase student achievement through creative regional partnerships while enabling students to benefit from regional and coordinated approaches to education and help focus conversations, visions, and goals that improve education for all Maine students.

“It’s a really good way to work to cast our net a little broader,” Ray said. “Our overall strategy is to service our community, not just from Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12, but also to focus on early intervention.”

He said that the grant allows the district to look at issues or challenges that a child might be having at that time and then help them to get on track so that they can be successful when they enter school.

According to Ray, current special educational services for young children is provided by York County Child Development Services.

The grant will serve as a pilot program for other school districts around the state and give Biddeford ample time and funding to support a well-thought out transition of special education services, Ray said. 

The project is expected to be fully implemented by 2021 to ensure successful early integration of special education students into district schools.

The Biddeford program will be conducted at John F. Kennedy Memorial School and interface with the district’s existing Pre-K program and the federally-funded community-based Head Start already in operation at the school.  

Jen Normand, who serves as Biddeford’s Special Education director, said that she’s excited for the opportunity that the grant presents for the school district.

“It has the potential to increase outcomes for our students and to get to know families sooner,” Normand said. “We are good at problem solving and being flexible.” 

She said that early intervention and special education programs like this reduces the likelihood of delays among at-risk children and assists and empowers families to meet their child’s and their own needs.  

Services are intended to minimize the effects of developmental delays and learning disabilities that could otherwise limit children’s developmental and educational prospects.

Early intervention opportunities could include physical, occupational, and speech therapy for young children with developmental problems.

Through the years, studies have shown that positive early intervention is an essential prerequisite for  success in later grades in school, at work and in the community. The benefits of special education services provided to young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays are clear and have been shown to positively impact outcomes across developmental domains, including health, language and communication, cognitive development, and social/emotional development.

Conversely, families also derive benefits from early intervention by being able to better meet their children’s special needs from an early age and throughout their lives, while the benefits to society in general include reducing economic burden and taxation through a decreased need for special education funding in later grades in schools. 

Ray said the grant will also help Biddeford Schools in offering transportation for children to school.

He said the long term objective of the grant is to benefit the entire community.

“We want to show the community our belief in strong interventions at an early age and help shape policy and funding for child development services,” Ray said. “Part of it is to be collaborative and we also want to be an advocate for Biddeford students and their families.”

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 ext. 326 or by email at [email protected]

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