(COVINGTON, La.) — St. Paul’s School introduced the CORE Pack special education program into its curriculum during the 2017-2018 school year. The program, directed by Mrs. Lauren Oggs Gee and taught by Mrs. Carla Barwick and Mr. Jean Nadau du Triel, serves to teach basic educational, social, and life skills to students with disabilities. CORE stands for Catholic Opportunity for Responsible Education and represents the Lasallian core principle of maintaining an inclusive community.
About four years ago, several schools in the New Orleans archdiocese were approached by Archbishop Gregory Aymond and asked to look into creating special needs programs. St. Paul’s initially decided not to because the school had no experience in this field. However, the following year, Archbishop Aymond specifically asked President Brother Ray Bulliard to create this program. According to the archdiocese, St. Tammany Parish had the highest need for a special needs program within a school. “The Northshore had many public schools with respectable special needs programs, but what the Northshore didn’t have was a Catholic school with a special needs program,” said Principal Trevor Watkins.
The new program was being considered as the provincial of the school district called upon all Lasallian schools to be more inclusive. St. Paul’s recognized the opportunity the program offered and decided to start working on implementation. To start, the school began studying other programs similar to CORE. In the end, the SPS CORE Pack was based on St. Thomas More’s special needs program in Lafayette, La.
Since last year, the program has grown and is expected to continually grow, even beyond the SPS campus. Our Lady of the Lake school in Mandeville has started creating its own special needs program. St. Paul’s and OLL intend to build a system for any special needs student to be able to get a Catholic education here in St. Tammany Parish. Watkins said that while the program will offer a K-12 education, not all students will have the basic five-year schooling at St. Paul’s. Watkins and Gee said the program is designed to fit the needs of the student, and that while some students may be ready to graduate with only five years at St. Paul’s, others may need five-plus years to be ready to graduate to a college level program, or to graduate and start working at a job.
The CORE Pack program has shown to be very important for Catholic parents. St. Paul’s religion teacher Fred Escher said that “as a parent, I am overjoyed that my son now has the opportunity to get a Catholic education within a school that brings all the students together.” Watkins said that while some schools on the southshore have special needs programs, the programs are mostly run apart from the actual schools. St. Paul’s is proud that the CORE Pack program offers aspects of the high school experience along with special needs students being able to interact with their peers. Additionally, Watkins said “SPS students may think that they are helping out the CORE Pack students by interacting with them, and while that is true, allowing students to befriend and interact with CORE Pack students gives students the opportunity to prepare for the world after St. Paul’s. Ultimately, everyone benefits from the inclusion that is happening here.”