Benny Cenac, Houma Philanthropist and CEO of Cenac Marine Services, has always been dedicated in his endeavor to providing the absolute best for children and young adults when it comes to education. It has become a natural part of his practice to donate time and funds to several different schools, charities and programs. When he came across the opportunity to assist the Stella Learning Center in Houma, Louisiana, this was no different.
Stella Learning Center (SLC) is made up of highly skilled teachers in a positive teaching environment prepared with scientifically tested tactics that are used for instructional decision-making. SLC’s highly qualified staff works with individuals with Autism and related disorders. This school provides a program that Benny Cenac, Houma Philanthropist, feels is important to the Houma area.
When describing the growth and changes of Stella Learning Center over the years, Lead Teacher, Daisy Alviar says, “When we originally opened the center, it was the first Autism and Related Disorders Learning Center in the tri-parish area. We started out by accepting children ages 10 years and older. Our goal was to reach a population that so easily got lost in the public school system once they entered their Junior High School years. As time went on, we expanded by adding two daycare classrooms that we could use as a way of mainstreaming children and doing our best to get them ready for their elementary school years. All the while, we continued to work with young teenagers. Since, our young teenagers are now young men and women. They have begun transitioning into group homes, high school, and adult programs. We continue to offer services for families of children with Autism and Related Disorders as a public service. However, the demographics have changed from older children to a younger population. Yet, the mission remains the same: To improve the lives of individuals with autism and related disabilities through the provision of high quality, accessible educational programs designed to enhance the individuals’ opportunities to achieve their full potential.”
Some of the many donations Mr. Cenac made to Stella Learning center included two scholarships for older students, the purchase of a curriculum for Stella Learning Center’s Pre-School classroom, much needed mulch in their playground, 2 computers that will be used both for book keeping and classroom lessons as well as assistance with operational costs that help SLC continue to stay open.
Schools like SLC are few and far between although the need is great. The current protocol in most school districts is to integrate children with disabilities into mainstream classrooms. Separating kids based on ability—the old model of the special-ed classroom—is now seen as discriminatory and stigmatizing. Advocates for integration say it helps children with special needs build social skills and it develops compassion among non-disabled ones. But like so many ideas that are terrific in theory, integration is often disastrous in practice. Because of this, many children with special needs fall between the cracks once they hit junior high.
Here’s the problem: Teachers in mainstream classrooms rarely have the education or expertise to work with complex disabilities that include difficulties with behaviour. Rates of diagnoses of autism, for instance, are growing exponentially, and kids with conditions like this require very particular accommodation, including high teacher-to-student ratios, educators with extensive and specialized training, additional therapists and mental health workers, and environments designed to reduce stress.
Typically, though, integration involves simply sticking children with special needs in a regular classroom and providing them with limited and inconsistent support. Managing a busy classroom with ever-dwindling resources is demanding, and teachers are already overextended. Now imagine adding a child (or several children) who are hyper-sensitive to sound and touch, or who require one-on-one attention to decode a paragraph of text, or who are prone to explosive fits.
What’s more, research indicates that a teacher’s attitude toward integration is a huge factor in whether it will succeed or fail. Not surprisingly, a lot of teachers begrudge being assigned children with special needs—especially when they know they won’t get the resources to support those kids properly. All of this results in the exact opposite of what integration is supposed to achieve. Instead of making children with special needs feel included, they wind up feeling unwelcome and resented by both their teachers and their classmates. And instead of non-disabled children learning compassion, they end up afraid or disdainful of disabled kids.
The overuse of suspensions, expulsions and exclusions suggests that schools don’t have the funding or proficiency to meet their obligations to children with special needs. Integration—however noble the original intent—is failing both children with disabilities and their non-disabled classmates.
SLC is highly trained and knowledgeable and they know exactly what accommodations students need to succeed so that they don’t fall through the cracks. Daisy Alviar replied to the donation with gratitude by stating, “Mr. Cenac has provided us with the funds needed to continue working toward our mission.” Mr. Benny Cenac and the Cenac Team are so happy and proud to assist this amazing educational organization that has the best vision in mind for our local youth. We look forward to seeing the growth of Stella Learning Center over the years to come.
To learn more about Benny Cenac, Houma Philanthropist, and his community efforts please visit us here.