It was imperative for Mark and Mary Ruge to send their daughter, Mia, to a Catholic high school. Their sons had attended Catholic high school, and their wish for their daughter to have an excellent Catholic education was no different.
Mia has a mild form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which affects how she learns, and at times, presents challenges when socializing with others. As Mary and Mark looked at Catholic schools in Milwaukee, they could not find a school with a program that would assist Mia in her academic and social life.
They then approached Principal Dan Quesnell, who had been thinking about starting a program at DSHA for special need students. “(Quesnell) had it on his heart from the beginning,” Mark said. “It was the right time, he was the right principal, and he made it happen.”
After Quesnell and DSHA students traveled to and visited with Catholic schools in Washington, D.C. and Tennessee with special education programs, the Marian Scholars Program was born at DSHA.
The Marian Scholars Program is a student-centered, inclusive education program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Each student’s academic workload consists of a mixture of general education academic elective classes and special education classes in reading, writing, and math designed specifically for students in the program. In addition, each student participates fully in all aspects of a DSHA education—including participating in clubs, Mass, retreats, sports teams, fine art performances, and more.
“Mia loves school,” said Mary. “She’s getting so much attention. The teachers and staff at DSHA are making sure she’s working at her level and still working side-by-side with other students.”
THE FACES OF THE MARIAN SCHOLARS PROGRAM
Mia Ruge, DSHA ’24, is currently the only student in the program. She is loving her experience at DSHA thus far and has already led all-school prayer. She enjoys music, riding her bike, reading, and socializing with others.
Director of Marian Scholars Mary Anderson worked for 25 years as a special education teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools. She also was a diagnostician, working with a team of professionals to assess, diagnose, and evaluate students with special needs, developing individualized education plans for those students with a disability. Most recently, she was a special education service plan teacher for choice, charter, and private schools, working with special needs students and assisting regular education teachers in supporting those students in their classrooms.
Marian Scholars Faculty Gretchen Caraher, DSHA ’93 is a licensed school psychologist. She has conducted psychological assessments in case study evaluations and developed educational, social, and emotional goals for students with special needs. In addition, she has collaborated with teachers in both special and regular education classes to support students with special needs.
DSHA Peer Mentors: These upperclasswomen help Mia in the classroom. They accompany Mia solely to help her engage in class, implement curriculum modifications, and give her general support. She has one peer mentor with her in every class. They are not enrolled in the same classes, but many have previously taken the courses in which they mentor.
Mark and Mary rave about the peer mentors.
“Mia has instant friends and acquaintances at school who are devoted to helping her succeed,” Mark said. “When you have students who give up a free period to help someone like Mia, you know you’re getting the cream of the crop and excellent people.”
BENEFIT FOR ALL STUDENTS
Although the program is designed to benefit Mia, Mark and Mary are hopeful this program will benefit all students at DSHA.
“There’s talk these days about inclusion and diversity,” Mark said. “When those topics are brought up, special need kids are a part of the conversation. Special needs kids bring something to the table. A program like this lifts the school. We hope that not only will Mia be lifted, but the peer mentors and her classmates as well.”
“All DSHA students, with and without disabilities, will benefit from the Marian Scholars Program,” said Anderson and Caraher. “At DSHA, we know that each student brings unique gifts and talents to our school and broadening our student body to include Marian Scholar students only adds to the diverse fabric of our school community.”
EMBRACING ALL GOD’S CHILDREN
This is the epitome of DSHA’s Catholic identity: a Christ-centered community that values diversity and embraces the mosaic of all God’s children.
“God was looking over us,” said Mary. “We thought DSHA was not an option for Mia, but the program came together, and we’re ecstatic about how it works. God had a hand in the whole situation.”
Stay tuned to hear more about the Marian Scholars Program. To learn more about the conception of the program, look out for the 2019-2020 DSHA Annual Report, coming to mailboxes at the end of the year.
For more information on the program, click here.