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Macon-Piatt hosts family night to dispel rumors about Social Emotional Alternative Program

Social Emotional Alternative Program Principal Jessica Ellison describes the sensory room she is developing for her younger students.

DECATUR — Two Special Education programs housed at Decatur Public Schools are combining next year.

Administrators worry that the change has prompted misinformation to spread.

“We want our new students to feel welcome. It’s not a scary place. It’s not a jail. People have almost made those correlations,” says Social Emotional Alternative Program Principal Jessica Ellison.

The Macon-Piatt Special Education District has decided to combine Ellison’s Social Emotional Alternative Program with the less intensive Social/Emotional Development program, due to staffing issues. The district serves students from 12 different school districts in central Illinois. 

Ellison says the rumors about the program started after that decision. She says she wants families to know what it’s really like – a positive place where students with emotional disabilities, autism or another disability can get what they need.

For example, students next year will be able to take breaks at a new fitness room, rock climbing wall or “sensory room.” The latter is especially for younger students.

“I have a light curtain room. The curtain will be full of lights. It will be in a dark room and I’m going to put stars on the ceiling. Some of our students just need that for a break. So that will be another sensory thing,” Ellison says.

While only grades K-6 of SEAP and SED will be combining next year, Ellison also highlights the individualized learning at the high school level. SEAP has continued to provide remote options this year, particularly for students who started jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I actually have one student graduating in May — I’m so proud of her. She actually works 40 hours a week at Caterpillar here in Decatur. She’s fostering a family member, and she’s graduating,” Ellison says.

Families interesting in seeing the program for themselves can visit the William Harris Learning Academy in Decatur on Thursday evening from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

Picture of Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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