Return to Headlines

Higley’s STARS program brings early intervention to youngest learners

Higley’s STARS program brings early intervention to youngest learners
Right as the clock hits 1:15 p.m., Andrew runs into the class and embraces his teacher in such a big embrace she is nearly knocked over. He then runs to dad and together they wash their hands. Dad says, “I love you,” trying to make eye contact. A quick good-bye later and Andrew is at the table to do the first activity of the day: writing.

Students in Higley Unified School District’s STARS Preschool program follow the same pattern as their peers during their class, from reading and circle time to stations and outdoor play.
The program is open to special needs students who qualify through a school evaluation. About 115 students participate this year between the Cooley and Sossaman Early Childhood Development Centers. Each class has a teacher plus at least two assistants. More may be present depending on a child’s IEP.
Students may qualify based on a number of qualifications: social/emotional, language development, adaptive, gross motor skills, fine motor skills and both receptive and expressive language abilities. They must be between 3 and 5 years of age.
Casie Upstill is a lead teacher STARS teacher at Sossaman Early Childhood Development Center. She’s a certified preschool through eighth-grade teacher and holds endorsements in early childhood education and special education.
“The STARS program is very similar (to the preschool program) but we have additional support and more of a focus on the needs, such as speech communication methods,” Ms. Casie said.
The program is part of Higley’s early childhood program run by director Patricia Gleason.
“We’re fostering independence so they can participate fully when they get to kindergarten because that is the ultimate goal,” she said. “It’s so much fun. It’s so much love and so much caring.”
Ms. Casie taught in Higley when the preschool and STARS programs were located on the individual elementary school campuses, prior to the move to the new middle school campuses that opened in fall 2013. The change, she said, has been positive and has brought attention to the community about the opportunities for students with special needs.
Students can also spend time in the classroom with their “typical” peers to better prepare them for the time they move to a regular classroom, Ms. Casie said.
“Being a facility that’s all about early childhood, it’s a positive that they’re around their peers all day and the playground is wonderful to develop gross motor skills,” Ms. Casie said.
Currently, there are 10 classes – all partial day – offered between the two sites. They meet three days a week. Two teachers work at each site, with a maximum of 12 students allowed in each class.
Parents who are concerned about their child’s development may request an evaluation form. Children can be screened as early as 2 years, 9 months old.
“If they see a concern, they can contact the school for an evaluation screening to determine if more testing is needed,” she said. “I get kids all year long as soon as they turn 3,” she said.
The program is state-funded. Students are in class three hours a day.
“One of the reasons the program works so well is from birth to age 8, kids make the most progress. The earlier you get them in for intervention, the more progress they’re going to make,” Ms. Casie said.
A variety of schedules are available. Check with one of the centers for more information.