There are nearly 7,000 students in Salem-Keizer Public Schools who receive special education services. The teachers and instructional assistants who serve our students in special education programs enjoy both the challenges and rewards of their work.

Shannon Bese and her team at Kalapuya Elementary School work with third- through fifth-grade students. She is a Developmental Learning Center teacher and has 12 students with autism and other disabilities.

“I love my kids,” Shannon said. “Their personalities are the best. They are the best people I know. They trust us, and their parents trust us. We’re doing really good things for our guys, and that feels good.”

(Pictured above from left: Paige Wittman, Mandie Fischer, Shannon Bese, Ale Garcia, Nancy Wilkins, Mara Berry and Erica Ortega. Not pictured: Blair Becker and Pat Bertsch.)

OrPATS Training Site

Shannon’s classroom is an Oregon Program Autism Training Sites and Supports (OrPATS) training site. It’s one of just 40 OrPATS training classrooms in the state, and the only one in our district. OrPATS classrooms model evidence-based teaching methods identified by the National Autism Center and the National Professional Development Center.

Having a regular routine is important for the students. The day starts out with fun group activities that all the students participate in together. Shannon leads the kids in singing songs, answering questions, having a snack and deciding what they’ll have for lunch.

For one child in the group, making eye contact and a sound when asked a question may be an important interaction. For another, writing words and numbers on the bulletin board and saying a few words in front everyone is an important daily task. After the group lesson finishes, Shannon and her team work with students on individual needs.

Teacher Shannon Bese

Kalapuya Elementary Teacher and OrPATS Trainer Shannon Bese.

“The thing with this classroom is you have to be like a well-oiled machine,” Shannon said. “Our students have a wide range of needs. That includes autism, intellectual disabilities and other health impairments. We work to individualize their day for what works best for them.”

Special education teachers from all across our district visit Shannon’s classroom for training. She said OrPATS pays for substitute teachers to cover teachers’ classes when they visit for training. Recently, three teachers from Lee Elementary came together to train with Shannon and her team.

Preparing Students for the Future

Shannon emphasized that one of the most important things special education teachers do in elementary school is begin to prepare students for the future.

“With this third- to fifth-grade age, we’re really starting to look at what their futures will look like. Will they have a job? Will they live independently? Will they be at home? What does that look like?” Shannon said.

When vending machines with snacks for staff were removed a few years ago, Shannon saw the opportunity to create a school store to fill the gap for snacks and to provide her students a place to learn new skills. Shannon’s kids sell treats like candy, granola bars, sodas and water to Kalapuya staff members. The store presents an important opportunity for the students to interact with teachers in other classrooms and with office staff.

Kalapuya students

Instructional Assistant Mandie Fischer and students deliver a treat from the student store to Principal Jennifer Neitzel.

“We have a school store that we run, and we provide snacks for staff, “Shannon said. “It’s a visual order form, you circle the item you want. Students get the form, take it to the storage area, get the items, punch a punch card and deliver the item to the correct staff member.”

At the end of the school year, one of Shannon’s lessons is preparing a graph of the items that sold the best over the past year.

“Principal Neitzel’s motto is ‘we’re all in this together.’ It’s really nice to have that support. We feel very included in everything our school does,” Shannon said.