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Learning and Service at the Benedictine School

by Dr. Daniel McKee

Benedictine School
Education majors who spent three days at the Benedictine School are
(kneeling) Gabrielle Neri, Katie Black, Clare Beatty and Gia Saddic,
and (standing) Michelle Prendergast, Nicole Putnick, Melissa Dwyer,
Brittany Nelli, Danielle Grayson, Courtney Kahlert and Amanda Mazzone.


For eleven Neumann University students, the Christmas holiday break provided a very special opportunity for spiritual and professional growth. These eleven students, all of whom are majoring in early elementary and special education, spent three days at the Benedictine School, a residential school for students with disabilities in Ridgely, Maryland.    

The Benedictine School is a year-round day and residential school for individuals ages 5-21 with intellectual disabilities, multiple disabilities, and autism. For students from Neumann University, there were two primary purposes for this trip to Benedictine.    First, our future teachers would have an opportunity to learn about the extensive services provided on behalf of students with significant disabilities, beyond what they would normally observe within local parochial, public, or charter schools. Secondly, this trip to Benedictine would enable students from Neumann to engage in service, an important core value of the University. 

The trip commenced on a blustery Wednesday morning as the eleven students made the 90 minute excursion by vans to Ridgely, accompanied by Dr. Len DiPaul, Dr. Megan Scranton and Dr. Dan McKee from the Division of Education and Human Services. The group stayed at the Berg Center, a former convent on the grounds of the Benedictine School that is now used to accommodate guests or visiting groups.  After dropping off luggage and supplies, the group went to the school for an orientation program. Information was provided regarding the various student and adult services offered through the school, and then students from Neumann toured the Benedictine School to see the various programs in which they would be working. These options included working in classrooms emphasizing functional academics, total communication classes for the neediest students who are non-verbal, and life skills programs. Students from Neumann also had an opportunity to serve in conjunction with speech, occupational, and physical therapists, as well as assisting in the gym and the pool. The students then visited the residences where the pupils at Benedictine live.  

One evening, the group traveled to two community residences for disabled adults. At the group homes, Neumann students dined and socialized with the residents, and truly enjoyed the interaction. This opportunity helped to provide the students from Neumann a view of how positive the future can be for adults with disabilities when proper care and appropriate resources are provided.  

Of particular importance on this trip were the students’ insights regarding the connections between the RISES values of Neumann University and the experiences that they were having at Benedictine. The students offered a variety of thoughts as far as which values were most evident. Brittany Nelli emphasized service. “Service is probably the greatest connection to the values of Neumann as the teachers were more than willing to help the students in any way they can. It is clear that the teachers truly care about the students.”


Danielle Grayson added, “The teachers and aides go above and beyond for their students and it’s really amazing to see their relationships.” Several students were impressed by the reverence that the staff displayed for the students. Katie Black noted, “Reverence connects to this trip through the respect that the teachers give their students, as well as to their colleagues.” 


Michelle Prendergast recognized that even though these students experience significant challenges, they are very deserving of being treated with reverence. Amanda Mazzone described the sense of excellence that she experienced. “These students show excellence every day in the little things they are able to accomplish.  I think all of these students are amazing and I believe they all do great things each day.”  


The group of eleven students from Neumann University included Clare Beatty, Katie Black, Melissa Dwyer, Danielle Grayson, Courtney Kahlert, Amanda Mazzone, Brittany Nelli, Gabrielle Neri, Michelle Prendergast, Nicole Putnick, and Gia Saddic.  Their dedicated professional efforts supported the educational programs at the Benedictine School and provided a wonderful opportunity to learn about this aspect of special education. These individuals served as commendable representatives of the University and an inspiration for future classes of students who are preparing to be teachers. 


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