Disabilities Comm. Hears of the Need for After-School Programs for Middle-Schoolers

The Revere Commission on Disabilities held its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, November 14, via Zoom. Chair Ralph DeCicco, vice-chair Pauline Perno, and fellow members Jason Barone-Cichocki, Robert Brown, and Mario Grimanis were on hand for the meeting.

The guest speaker for the meeting was Deborah Kneeland-Keegan, the long-time director of the For Kids Only (FKO) After-School program, who made a presentation to the members about FKO’s Youth in Motion program and what FKO offers for children with disabilities.

Kneeland-Keegan, a former special education teacher whose career began in the 1970s, said she recognized that there was a need for after-school programs for children and opened her non-profit company in 1984, which is now observing its 40th anniversary.

Since beginning in Winthrop, FKO has expanded to other communities, including Chelsea, Revere, Everett, and Peabody. FKO is open year-round and until 6 p.m. on school days. FKO has been serving Revere since 1998 and was selected by United Way-Mass Bay to receive a grant to build its facility on Broadway, which initially was known as Youth in Motion, and has expanded into social and emotional learning work.

Kneeland-Keegan said the program in Revere is licensed to serve 140 children in grades K-5 and is working with the city to expand its programs to include middle school-age children. The programs offered at FKO, which is under contact with the Mass. Dept. of Early Education and Care, presently include inclusion specialists and one-on-one for students who need specialized care, including those who have disabilities or severe behavioral problems. She said that FKO partners with local schools, inclusion specialists, and social workers, among others, to achieve success for every child. She also noted that the program “does not use ‘time-outs’, which is a punitive approach to change, and instead we use a more-positive behavioral approach to learning. FKO is committed to inclusion as a philosophy, the belief system that every child is engaged and celebrated and to promote the attitude that ‘we all count and we all belong’.

“Youth with inclusion support show increased engagement in learning and improved behavior and relationship with their peers,” Kneeland-Keegan added.

She noted that there has been a tremendous change in the needs of children who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. She also said that FKO designs individualized plans to accommodate each child, similar to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in the school system. Subsidies are available for those who need it. In addition, the FKO staff is multilingual and the FKO facility is fully-accessible.

Grimanis noted the great need for programs for middle school-age children, a sentiment with which Keegan fully-agreed.

“This is a critical need. Many students who have been with us for five years do not want to leave,” said Keegan, “but we do not have any place for them.”

DeCicco noted that he had been in favor of the Wonderland site for the new high school principally because it would have been able to accommodate programs in the school such as FKO’s. However, the new high school that is being proposed by some at a location other than Wonderland will be “squished-in” and will not be able to handle the programs that are needed to address the needs of today’s youth.

Keegan then added that support in the Revere community is needed in order to expand FKO’s reach to accommodate children in middle school.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.